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Flooring supplier puts environment first

From his office at the headquarters of Mannington Mills Inc. in Salem County, company chairman Keith Campbell sometimes spots bald eagles swooping down to Fenwick Creek for carp and perch during spawning season.

From his office at the headquarters of Mannington Mills Inc. in Salem County, company chairman Keith Campbell sometimes spots bald eagles swooping down to Fenwick Creek for carp and perch during spawning season.

Campbell, the fourth-generation leader of his family's flooring manufacturer, gets that thrill because his grandfather in 1924 moved the company from nearby Salem city to a site in Mannington Meadows, a crescent-shaped area of wetlands and farmland bordering the Salem River.

The tidal area is an important stopover for migratory waterfowl, shorebirds, wading birds, raptors - making it questionable whether the company could get the environmental permits needed to put a factory there today.

"You might be able to, but you could probably find more suitable ground," said Campbell, who lives little more than a mile from the office and owns the 96-year-old company with his three sisters.

Influenced, perhaps, by its home base in a sensitive area, Mannington Mills has been working to reduce its environmental impact by restoring 12 acres of native habitat on its 500-acre Mannington Township property and by striving to use more recycled materials in vinyl floor tiles and other products than it generates in waste that gets shipped to landfills.

"We've been doing some remediation work here," Campbell said. "What my grandfather did in 1924 is different than the world is today."

The effort has brought Mannington accolades from the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection, which counts Mannington among its Environmental Stewardship leaders, which are companies that go beyond what is required by the laws to protect the environment.

The economic downturn forced painful cutbacks at Mannington, which employs 2,000 at seven factories in six states. The employment figures are down a third, with the biggest hit coming on the residential-flooring side.

"In residential [tiles], the numbers are staggering. You can get downright depressed," said Campbell, who is a fervent advocate for U.S. manufacturing.

During the economic slump, Mannington met an environmental goal it had been pursuing since 2001: Using more waste in certain products than it generates in the manufacturing process.

Last year, Mannington's two biggest factories - the one in South Jersey and one in Calhoun, Ga., used 190 pounds of recycled material in their products for every 100 pounds of waste generated through their manufacturing.

That effort drew praise from Janet Milkman, executive director of the Delaware Valley Green Building Council. Milkman called Mannington Mills "a great example of a company that gets the life-cycle issues in buildings." That is crucial, Milkman said, because building construction and demolition are a major part of landfill waste.

One of Mannington Mills' recycling efforts involves the use of recycled drywall, which is ground to a powder by a company in Philadelphia, in commercial floor tiles. Customers for the tiles include TD Bank, which uses the tiles in its environmentally certified branches.

Mannington Mills used 404,000 pounds of recycled drywall last year, up 26 percent from 2009. The recycled drywall replaces a small amount of the limestone powder that normally forms the base of the tiles.

Its supplier of recycled drywall, Revolution Recovery in Northeast Philadelphia, receives roughly 200 tons a day of mixed construction and demolition material and finds ways to reuse 80 percent of it, including about 20 tons a day of drywall, according to cofounder Avi Golen.

Revolution Recovery's scope puts the 202 tons of recycled drywall used by Mannington Mills last year in perspective. "It's not a lot of material, but it's a very big step in the recycling business," to make a new building product out of used drywall, Golen said.

The remainder of the recycled drywall is used in agricultural markets, Golen said.

Other Mannington Mills efforts include the recycling of used commercial tiles and the recycled paper in the backing for sheets of vinyl flooring, which it also makes in Salem County.

In the factory, rows and rows of 4-by-4-foot containers filled with materials for recycling are stacked four high. "This is all stuff that would go to a landfill" if Mannington Mills were not reusing it, said Richard F. Baese, site services manager.