Environmentalists look at the harmful side of the 4 billion pounds of carpet going into landfills every year, but Sean Ragiel, founder and CEO of Newark-based CarpetCycle LLC, also sees millions of dollars in lost profits.
"Local governments are finally trying to push buttons to make carpet recycling increase in volume," Ragiel said. "Nationally, about 10 or 12 percent of discarded carpets are recovered a year, so there's still 88 percent out there. Since we're in close proximity to New York City and New Jersey — the most densely populated state in the country — that's a lot of potential business for us."
After starting his carpet demanufacturing business with two employees in February 1999, Ragiel said the biggest obstacle to growth was that not all types of carpet had recyclable markets. Polyester carpet, for instance, "makes up 25 percent of the stream, and its production is increasing on a regular basis because it's a big seller," but no market exists for it yet.
Even without a market for polyester, Ragiel said CarpetCycle diverts 1.6 million pounds of carpet from landfills a month, and with its new 250 horsepower shearing technology — which Ragiel purchased with a loan from Susquehanna Bank, provided through the U.S. Small Business Administration — the company achieves 99 percent nylon purity and ships it to processing plants in Newark, Georgia and Europe to create new carpet yarns and auto parts.
Ragiel said CarpetCycle has grown between 15 percent and 35 percent each year in staff and revenues, and he projects the company will surpass $4 million in revenues with 50 employees by the end of 2012. In March, the company outgrew its manufacturing center in Elizabeth and moved to a facility four times larger in Newark.
"I know several other recyclers in other niche recycling businesses here in Newark. There's plenty of innovation now, and we want the city to participate in it more," Ragiel said. "When the city changes out carpets, they should be coming here. The city owns plenty of buildings, and I'm sure they're changing carpet in several of them on a yearly basis. Our service is not only green, but cost effective, because we offer free drop off to keep our recycling supply chain as local as possible."
While he can't predict any rapid growth in the future, Ragiel hopes that state governments in the Northeast will approve the use of synthetic hay bales — which are made from polyester and nylon, CarpetCycle's largest products — to prevent soil erosion during large construction projects, and he noted they are already widely accepted in the South.