ERJ staff report (TP)
Pennsylvania − Next time you’re in the New York Yankees baseball training facility, or the running tracking at the Manchester United soccer stadium, or at the personal basketball court or playground at the home of Miami Heat forward LeBron James, take a moment to look down, reported Heather Clancy for Forbes.
That’s because chances are the rubber surface you’re walking on is made of the recycled rubber soles of old Nike sneakers that have been retired from their original purpose. The material they are made of is called Nike Grind, a material that was actually created more than 20 years ago when Nike began its Reuse A Shoe program. Since roughly 1990, the company has transformed more than 28m shows and 36,000 tonnes of other scrap materials into this material, now used in more than 450,000 locations around the world.
One of the technology companies responsible for helping make that happen is ECORE International, which is billed as North America’s biggest consumer of recycled scrap tires (aside from the aforementioned athletic shoes).
ECORE uses the waste collected by partners like Nike to create commercial flooring: it handles more than 300,000 pounds (136,077 kg) of Nike-sourced rubber annually (that’s about 700,000 sneaker outsoles), converting into a sports flooring product called Everlast.
“That was the product line that really set the platform for our transformation,” said Art Dodge, CEO of ECORE, which is based in Lancaster, Pennsylvania.
ECORE isn’t just some eco-sensitive startup jumping on the reuse bandwagon. The family-run company actually was founded back in 1869 by the current CEO’s great-grandfather: it used to produce the corks and stoppers used in Heinz Ketchup bottles. The company began reinventing itself in the mid-1980s, and recycling rubber products fit with its background.
“We’re really trying to get of all the tire rubber in the world,” Dodge said. (One 36in [91.44cm] car tire can be reused to create 20 square feet [1.85 square metres] of its rubber flooring.)
This isn’t as easy as it sounds: rubber is engineered not to be destroyed, but the company determined quickly that this durability lent itself to flooring applications. There are actually several manufacturing technologies that ECORE has developed to pull this off including the Itrsu system, which fuses different flooring layers together to create materials that meet low volatile organic compound (VOC) emissions standards; and the vertically integrated systems used at its RTI operating unit to separate rubber from metals, and clean it before it is turned into something else. (The metal is sold to other companies that can use it for other applications.)
“We really see ourselves as a closed-loop provider,” Dodge said. As of April 2011, ECORE has actually been taking back its own old products from existing customers – that reclaimed material is again processed for new potential new uses.
Aside from the applications I’ve already mentioned, ECORE’s products are used for new tires, walking paths, rubberised asphalt and landscaping applications. It also makes underflooring to help protect against shock: for example, the material has been used in hospitals and other settings to reduce the impact if someone falls or something is dropped.
Next up: ECORE is studying ways that its recycled rubber could be used in collaborate with companies that provide turf for playing fields, with an eye to helping addressing growing concerns over head injuries.
On 1 November, the company announced that it had named Lori Dowling – previously with flooring giant Armstrong World – as president of a new division called ECORE Commercial Flooring. The unit will focus on driving sales for ECORE’s five big brands in this area: Everlast (the Nike-derived flooring), ECO98 (its carpeting tiles), ECOsurfaces (another recycled flooring line), QT Sound Quality (acoustic underlayers) and Polyflor (vinyl tiles).
Of course, ECORE isn’t the only company seeking to get rich on recycling rubber. This is a big business: even though its data is now 10 years old, the US Environmental Protection Agency figures there are more than 290m scrap tires generated in the United States alone. Markets now exist for roughly 80 percent of that material: at that time, about 8 percent of that supply went into recycled products like the kind being made by ECORE.
Other companies I’m watching in this space are Lehigh Technologies, which is one of the company focusing on creating rubberised asphalt (among other things); Liberty Tire Recycling, which collects about one-third of all the scrap tires in the United States annually (about 130m); and US Rubber Recycling, which looks to be a direct competitor to ECORE.
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Full story from Forbes