Carpet and Rugs

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Recycle carpet, rugs, and padding

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Recycling synthetic rugs, carpet and carpet padding reuses the original raw material—petroleum (a non-renewable resource)—to make new carpet and other products. Recycling also keeps heavy, bulky carpets out of landfills.

How to recycle carpet, rugs and padding

  1. If your carpet or rug is not badly stained, torn or noticeably worn, it may find a second home through a charity, such as Habitat for Humanity or at a used carpet retail outlet. Carpet America Recovery Effort (CARE) reports that 500,000 pounds of carpet was diverted to wholesale or retail outlets to be sold or distributed as used carpet in 2006.[1]
  2. If your carpet or large area rug has outlived its usefulness, then it’s time to find a private recycler. CARE provides a map and lists more than 50 carpet reclamation partners across the United States. Earth 911 offers a search engine that can lead you to a recycling company for carpet or carpet padding in your town. Note, though, that recycling a carpet or carpet pad is not free. Private recyclers charge between 5 to 25 cents per pound of old carpet. The cost depends on the kind of carpet you have, how it was installed, and your geographic location.[2] Used carpet weighs about .5 pounds per square foot so 1,000 square feet of carpet would cost between $25 and $125 to recycle.[3]
  3. A less expensive option is to recycle the carpet or rug yourself. The World Environmental Organization offers these suggestions: [4]
    • Place the carpet or rug in the back of an enclosed truck or van.
    • Cut it into small squares or circles and place under the feet of heavy furniture.
    • Place carpet or rug remnants at doors to catch mud and water.
    • Use the carpet or rug as floor mats in cars.
    • Take the carpet or rug with you when camping to keep the dirt or snow out of your "home."
    • Cut the carpet or rug into strips wide enough to fit between the rows in your garden to prevent the weeds from growing.

Recycling carpet, rugs and padding helps you go green because…

  • It reduces the amount of materials sent to the landfill, which keeps existing landfills open longer.
  • It reuses a non-renewable resource (petroleum) to make new carpet, new carpet padding or other new products.

The amount of carpet sent to the landfill each year—5.2 billion pounds—could cover an area greater than New York City.[5][6] 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.[7] 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. CARE is the third-party organization tasked to achieve the goal of diverting 40 percent of carpet from landfills by 2012.

Carpet recycling steps

The carpet recycling business has many players: collectors, sorters, processors, and manufacturers. Carpet is first collected and sorted by private recycling companies that sort it based on its face fiber (nylon 6,6, nylon 6, polypropylene (olefin) or polyester) and its backing components.[8] Some facilities will only accept nylon face fibers and others deal only in polyester.

Once it is sorted, carpet is shipped either to a processor that breaks it down physically or chemically for use as a feedstock in a manufacturing facility, or directly to a manufacturer that transforms the waste into new products. CARE’s 2006 Annual Report notes that two-thirds of carpet waste was sent directly to manufacturers in 2006. However, most of this waste was collected by the manufacturers themselves via their carpet take-back programs. Collectors and sorters also sent one-quarter of carpet waste to processors.

Once the carpet and padding reach the recycling facility (processor or manufacturer), the carpet is 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.[9]
  • Closed Loop Recycling: Used carpet is turned into new carpet.[9]
  • 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.[9] These products include auto parts, carpet pads, plastic lumber, sound barriers, landscape timbers, nylon pallets and parking stops.

If the carpet is not suitable for any of these options, the manufacturer may choose to send it to a waste-to-energy facility. 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.[10]

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 carpet manufacturing.[11] 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 almost infinitely.[11]

Why recycling a carpet is not free

The carpet manufacturing and recycling industry is concentrated 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.[12] Transportation costs, as well as processing costs, are the reasons carpet recycling is not free. Thus, buyers of new carpet will likely continue to send old carpets to landfills as long as disposal is cheaper than recycling. In time, the economics may improve as the volume of carpet recycling increases.[9]

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Finding ways to recycle products will not only help reduce the amount of waste we produce, but will create a source of raw materials to use in the production of new products made of recycled parts.

As a proud manufacturer of all natural carpet, we salute anyone and everyone that goes the extra mile to keep the environment in mind by recycling.

All Natural Carpet

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