Annual carpet production for the U.S. market equals 1.5 billion square yards (approximately 485 square miles or enough to cover almost 90% of Houston, Texas, with carpet). Carpet typically lasts from 7 to 10 years (residential) or 5 to 8 years (commercial). Recarpeting accounts for 55% of all carpet sold, generating annual wastes of approximately 3.5 billion pounds (1.75 million tons). This represents nearly 1% by weight, but nearly 2% by volume, of municipal solid waste. Handling carpet and carpet pad waste creates space and machinery problems because of its bulk and volume. These values do not include the 125,000 annual tons of carpet pad waste generated primarily in residential recarpeting. Recarpeting produces a relatively homogeneous waste stream consisting of: carpet and carpet pad (85+%), and miscellaneous packaging, fasteners, & adhesives.
Alternatives to Disposal
Carpet pad is not reusable due to its tendency to absorb dirt and odors. However, carpet replacement sometimes yields usable waste carpet. Reuse is limited by the age of the carpet (wear and time degrade carpet components), condition of the carpet (rips and stains are undesirable), and contamination by animal fur, dander, or waste (cleaning cannot remove animal residues). Various operations across the country recover this carpet and either give it away or clean, trim and resell it. For example, Big Bob’s Used Carpet Shops, a retail chain with franchises in 25 states, sells both used and new residential carpet. Some carpet manufacturers have begun innovative leasing programs for their commercial products. The manufacturer owns the carpet, repairs and replaces worn carpet during the lease, and has the option of reconditioning carpet for a new customer.
Carpet pad recycling is relatively commonplace. An estimated 125 million pounds were recycled last year (50% of available post-consumer scrap). The success of pad recycling can be attributed to the homogeneity and market dominance of polyurethane pad and the well-established market and collection infrastructure for used carpet pad. Technology for carpet recycling currently exists for recovering face fiber from the carpet weave and for two different methods of recycling fiber:
- Mixed fiber recycled products include parking barriers, geotextiles, lumber alternatives, fiberboard, sod reinforcement, carpet tack strip and under-the-hood auto parts.
- Fiber sorting & recycling products include pure fiber resins for closed-loop recycling (recycling old carpet into new carpet).
Some fiber manufacturers offer to recycle commercial carpet waste if the installed carpet is of the manufacturer’s fiber type. All types of carpet are usually accepted for a small fee in addition to the customary disposal fee. Also, a Minnesota company collects and recycles both residential and commercial carpet for retailers and installers and from municipal collections.
Carpet recycling has not developed at the same pace as carpet pad recycling, despite the materials’ cogeneration. There is a greater complexity which carpet presents to a recycler: carpet fiber must be identified through a testing procedure, face fiber must be reclaimed from the weave and the 3 remaining carpet components must be disposed of or recycled (residuals have significantly less recycling value than face fiber). Additionally, synthetic carpets (nylon 6,6 and 6 fibers) have significantly more value than polypropylene, polyester, wool or blends. Since the nylon fibers must be recycled separately and represent 70% of the market, carpet recyclers get less value per pound than pad recyclers.
The Carpet & Rug Institute (CRI) recently endorsed a carpet labeling system to identify face fiber, backing(s) and adhesive(s) components. The CRI is soliciting adoption of the system from carpet manufacturers. The labeling system makes job site identification possible and would enable recyclers to target only the most valuable fibers for collection.
Responsibility for waste handling can fall on homeowners, installers or retailers. Despite this division of responsibility and established disposal mechanisms, carpet pad recycling has become a viable and cost-effective alternative. If the recovery and recycling of carpet’s fiber component proves to be cost effective, carpet collection should be as feasible as pad collection. Many of these issues were investigated under a remodeling waste management project being conducted by the Research Center in New York State. Results of this project are available as of 1997.
What You Can Do
- Search yellow pages for reuse outlets: “Carpet – Used” or “Building materials – Used.”
- Ask your carpet dealer to locate carpet and/or pad recyclers.