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Buy carpet from manufacturers with take-back programs

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When you buy carpet from manufacturers who have take-back programs you support businesses that take responsibility for a product once its useful life is over. Plus, these recycling programs are a good way to reuse petroleum (a non-renewable resource), which is the main ingredient in synthetic carpets. (Note: rug manufacturers don't offer these programs so consumers typically toss old rugs into the trash. For other options, see Recycle carpet, rugs, and padding.)

Find it! Carpet manufacturers with take-back programs

Before you buy

Most companies that offer take-back programs do so only for commercial customers simply because the volume of carpet being removed from a commercial site is significantly greater than from a residential site. Most also charge a fee to cover transportation and recycling costs, or require you to arrange and pay for shipping.

Buying carpet from manufacturers who have take-back programs helps you go green because…

  • Take–back programs return the carpet to a carpet manufacturer that is most likely to use it to make new carpet products.
  • It reduces the amount of materials sent to the landfill, which keeps existing landfills open longer.
  • It reuses a non-renewable resource.

The amount of carpet sent to the landfill each year—5.2 billion pounds—could cover an area greater than New York City.[1][2] Carpet is bulky and heavy, taking up considerable landfill space. This concern over landfill capacity led to the 2002 Memorandum of Understanding for Carpet Stewardship (MOU) signed by various local, state, and federal government agencies; carpet manufacturers; and others.[3] This agreement established a 10-year goal to increase the amount of post-consumer carpet that is reused and recycled. The voluntary agreement encourages manufacturers to assume responsibility for a carpet’s lifecycle—from sale to disposal. Carpet America Recovery Effort (CARE), is the third-party organization tasked to achieve the goal of diverting 40 percent of carpet from landfills by 2012.

Recycling a carpet is not as convenient as paper or other products that can be collected with weekly garbage pick-up and taken to local recycling facilities. Instead, carpet must be shipped to carpet manufacturing and recycling facilities located in the southeastern US. This localization of the industry in just a few states creates logistical issues for carpet recycling in other parts of the country. Because carpet is so heavy, transportation costs can be a hindrance to recycling efforts.[4] On average, used commercial (vinyl-backed) carpet weighs about .5 pounds per square foot.[5] That's about 500 pounds for 1,000 square feet of carpet. To ship this amount of carpet from a Western state to the Southeast costs between $250 and $400, based on rates from one commercial trucking company.[6]

CARE’s 2006 Annual Report notes that most of the recycling—35 percent—is done by companies that perform every step in the recycling process: collecting, sorting, processing, and manufacturing products from the recycled materials. This includes companies with take-back programs.[7] The high costs associated with all of these steps is the reason that carpet recycling rates remain low—only 5 percent.[2][8] It’s also the reason take-back programs aren't free. Buyers of new carpet are likely to continue to send their old carpet to landfills as long as disposal is cheaper than recycling. In time, the economics may improve as the volume of carpet recycling increases.[8]

How take-back programs work

Consumers who buy carpet from a company that has a take-back program can simply follow that company’s recommendations for shipping it to a facility in the Southeast after it's worn. Each company’s program works differently. Some only take high-volume vinyl-backed carpet from commercial sites; others network with private recycling contractors.

Depending on the company’s policy, the carpet will be considered for one of three recycling options:

  • Repurposing: The carpet is cleaned and refurbished and given to a charity or it re-enters the marketplace as used carpet.[8]
  • Closed Loop Recycling: Used carpet is turned into new carpet.[8]
  • Downcycling: The used carpet is separated into its components and made into products of lesser value either by the carpet manufacturer or by another company.[8] New products made from recycled carpet materials include auto parts, carpet pads, plastic lumber, sound barriers, landscape timbers, nylon pallets, and parking stops.

For marketing purposes, most companies say the carpet will not go to a landfill, but they don’t assure that it won't be incinerated at a waste-to-energy facility.[8] Although waste-to-energy is not a preferred method of disposal, it is considered a renewable energy source. Combusting carpet into inert, non-hazardous ash generates electricity to power the facility and to sell to local utilities.[9]

In 2006, 21.2 million pounds of used carpet was sent to waste-to-energy facilities. This amounts to 8.1 percent of all the carpet diverted from landfills.[10] CARE’s goal is to have only 1 percent of carpet discards sent to waste-to-energy facilities by 2012.[11]

Recycling carpets

Any recycling process expends energy and resources when the old product is converted into something new. Converting old carpet to new carpet (closed-loop recycling) is considered the most efficient method because it avoids the initial steps of extracting and processing petroleum and preparing it for manufacturing into carpet, a high-demand product.[12] One closed-loop process puts the old carpet through a mechanical and thermal process, which can then be used to create carpet backing. In another closed-loop process, new carpet is created when a manufacturer physically or chemically separates the nylon face fiber from the backing materials. The nylon is then converted back to the original monomer and made into new nylon. In this way, carpet can be remade virtually an infinite number of times.[12]

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