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Carpet and Recycling

Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and Carpet
America Recovery Effort (CARE) Logos

Every year our landfills are being needlessly filled with carpet that many consumers are carelessly disposing of. In addition, there are many carpet manufacturers that are creating pre–consumer waste during the manufacturing of carpet that further adds to this problem. According to the United States Environmental Protection Agency (US EPA), it is estimated that carpet accounts for over 6 billion pounds of solid waste each year, which is approximately 1.2% of the total US waste stream.

To address this issue, leaders in the carpet industry came together with governmental agencies as well as other non–governmental organizations to create an agreement known as a Memorandum of Understanding for Carpet Stewardship (MOU). This agreement, signed January 8, 2002, laid out a 10 year plan for reducing carpet waste between 2002 and 2012. This resulted in the formation of the Carpet America Recovery Effort (CARE) which aims to reduce carpet waste from filling our landfills. Their mission is to increase carpet recycling as well as the use of post–consumer carpet by developing market–based solutions. Their overall goal is to divert 40% of post–consumer carpet from reaching landfills by 2012. While it is debatable whether or not that goal will be reached, their efforts have resulted in the diversion of over 1 billion pounds of carpet since their formation. This equals approximately 5% of all carpet being disposed of today. Though these numbers indicate a better future ahead, they leave a large opportunity for much needed growth in the carpet recycling industry.

Carpet Flooring Products

Here's what you can do to help:

Buy carpet that is made from recycled content.

Mohawk's EverSTRAND® carpeting and Shaw's EcoWorx®
carpet tiles

Buying carpet made from recycled content doesn't necessarily mean it came from old carpet. New carpet is being made with everything from plastic bottles to automotive glass. A great example of a carpet fiber that is made from 100% recycled content is Mohawk's EverSTRAND® fiber which is made from recycled plastic bottles (also known as Polyethylene Terephthalate or P.E.T. carpet). Collins and Aikman (C&A) takes a different approach by manufacturing carpet backing made from glass recycled from vehicle windshields.

Carpet made from recycled content doesn't end with recycled carpet fibers. Carpet can also have backings made with recycling content such as Shaw's EcoWorx® backing. In addition, carpet can be installed with padding or cushions made from recycled material. Be sure to ask your carpet retailer for carpet made with a high percentage of recycled content.

When disposing of old carpet, recycle it!

Carpet America Recovery Effort (CARE) Logo

Many types of carpet can be recycled, and virtually all carpet can be safely incinerated in energy recovery systems. In some cases, you can have old carpet picked up right from your home. Some companies are even re–dying used carpet to make it look new and/or recycling rolled carpet into carpet tiles. Unfortunately, not all areas have local carpet reclamation centers. On the bright side, since the formation of CARE (Carpet America Recovery Effort), the US has gone from 5–6 recycling centers to over 50. CARE is a non-profit dedicated to assisting the carpet industry in the recycling of carpet.

Tip: Spread the word! If you see your neighbors throwing out old carpet let them know about carpet recycling centers in your area. To find carpet reclamation locations near you visit the interactive map from Carpet America Recovery Effort at carpetrecovery.org or view their printable pdf. Remember, every little bit counts when it comes to living green.

The carpet recycling process can be a bit tricky as carpet consists of 3 separate layers: base, surface fibers and the backing. All three layers require the use of bonding agents, adhesives and treatments that could contain toxic agents. In some cases, only one of the carpet layers will qualify for recycling while the others must be disposed of. Most types of nylon, polypropylene, and polyester carpets can be recycled and used for other purposes once they reach the end of their useful lives. Wool carpet and carpets with jute, rubber, or foam backings cannot. On the bright side, wool will decompose in a landfill at the end of its life unlike many synthetic fibers. For those carpets that can be recycled, there are three main types of carpet recycling methods, as described below.

The three main types of carpet recycling methods:

Certified Cradle To Cradle Logo

Cradle to Cradle or Closed Loop System – With this method, once carpet is at the end of its life, it can be broken down and recycled into new carpet over and over again without compromising aesthetics or performance. This is the most preferred method of recycling carpet. If this is achieved, carpet is given the Cradle to Cradle Certification from McDonough Braungart Design Chemistry (MBDC). An example of this is Shaw's EcoSolution Q® fiber made at Shaw's Evergreen plant. To learn more about their cradle to cradle process and to see Shaw's Evergreen plant in action, check out this video. Another closed loop carpet recycling center is Mohawk's GreenWorks plant where they recycle all major synthetic carpet fibers including Nylon 6, Nylon 6, 6, and Polypropylene.

Waste To Energy Planets

Waste to Energy – With this method, carpet is incinerated in furnaces with temperatures that exceed 1800°F. The energy created is used to generate power for homes and businesses, thus reducing dependence on fossil fuels. The carpet is reduced to ash which is only about 10% of its previous volume. This method is commonly used for disposing of carpet made from nylon 6, 6 fibers, but can be used on several other types of carpet as well.

Down–Cycling – This method involves reusing carpet before sending it to a landfill. Common down–cycling methods include cleaning then re–dying and retexturing the carpet and turning old rolled carpet into carpet tiles. Milliken Carpet is a leader in carpet renewal and reuse with their MilliCare Carpet Cleaning Service. This method delays carpet from reaching a landfill, but ultimately does not stop it. However, with many PVC backed carpet products, delaying disposal is often the only recycling choice available.

Looking toward a brighter future

The carpet industry is continually developing new eco–friendly ways to recycle carpet at the end of its lifecycle and to reuse recycled content in their products. With their innovative ideas and your commitment to the green movement, carpet is steadily heading toward a greener future. For more help purchasing eco–friendly carpet, be sure to check out FindAnyFloor's® Green Carpet Buying Guide.


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