In 2020, 51% of homes in the United States had carpeting, with an average lifespan of 8-15 years. In commercial applications, the average life expectancy is 7 years. Carpeting is made from woven nylon, polypropylene, polyester, or wool fibers. The amount of carpet sent to the landfill in 2017 was estimated to be around 5 billion pounds (2.3 billion Kgs). This carpet, like the plastic bottles it comes from, takes upwards of 500 years to decompose in a landfill. According to Google Trends, the search term “carpet recycling near me ” has grown significantly in the last few years, showing that there is a growing interest in recycling carpets.
Right now, at the end of the carpets life, about 14% of post-consumer carpet is collected, most are incinerated and less than 5% of that is recycled into other products, continuing the circular economy. Many carpets can be made from polypropylene using recycled bottles to lower cost and make use of the mountain of bottles we have.
Companies taking the initiative to develop products from this waste are seeing that there is a growing customer base that research and want to understand how the products are made. Customers are demanding transparency and solid results. Also since 2015, Extended Producer Responsibility laws for recycling carpets have been introduced in New York (2018), Maine (2017), and Illinois (2015). These laws EPR uses financial incentives to encourage manufacturers to design environmentally friendly products by holding producers responsible for the costs of managing their products at end of life.
How carpet is recycled.
Instead of being thrown in dumpsters, flooring companies sort the carpet from the padding and send it to a recycler. The carpets are further sorted with an infared light spectrometer that identifies what material the carpet is made from. They are then either cut apart, separating the backer from the pile, or they are shredded and washed.
Depending on the material, in the case of polypropylene, melted down into pellets, or bundled and sent to other companies that will turn it into new products.
Still, others are rearranged and sewn and run through an oven and rollers to make new carpet padding for commercial carpeting. And some carpet material can be used to make auto parts, plastic lumber, and other types of padding.
Who recycles carpet?
Founded in the US in 2002, CARE (Carpet America Recovery Effort) was founded, they are a nonprofit organization working to develop the infrastructure needed to recycle carpet efficiently across the U.S.
They also work with Habitat for Humanity to send gently used carpet to places where it can be reused instead of going through the recycling process. While the amount of carpet recycled had been increasing incrementally each year, it has seemed to plateau in 2016. CARE has been carefully reviewing the entire process to find and reduce bottlenecks and increase capacity to continue to grow the number of recycled each year.
Since their start, CARE has diverted over 5.6 billion pounds (2.5 billion Kgs) of carpet from landfills in the United States, including nearly 600 million pounds (272 million Kgs) from California landfills, and promoted the use and development of products containing materials derived from the carpet.
The companies recycling carpet.
Interface – Georgia, USA
Interface is a flooring company started in Georgia in 1983. They began making flooring and carpet squares, and in 1994 they began to take a more environmentally responsible approach and reducing their use of new materials. In 1996, Interface chose to adopt an innovation-based green strategy. Very quickly, they managed to reduce their impact on the environment by one third.
In 2018 they announced that all of their flooring; carpet squares and vinyl plank flooring are carbon neutral across the entire product lifecycle through its Carbon Neutral Floors program. And 2019 brought the news that 90% of their energy use is from renewable resources. Their goal is to make all their new flooring out of old flooring, and they have a line of flooring that is made from 98% recycled material. Interface also has been making recycled vinyl-backed flooring since 2000.
Through their ReEntry program, they have been recycling vinyl-backed carpet tiles for over 20 years now. Interface helped to write California’s Carpet Stewardship bill, which passed in 2017, mandating that carpet manufacturers hit a target of 24 percent carpet recycling by 2020. While most in the industry pushed back on this, Interface helped lead the way. Their goal is to be a carbon-negative company by 2040.
Shaw -Georgia, USA
Shaw has been running their re[TURN]® Reclamation Program since 2006, taking back used carpet to be recycled into new carpet or floor tiles. They have recycled almost 1 billion pounds of carpet and flooring.
In 2013, they installed a 1 MW solar array in their carpet tile manufacturing facility in Cartersville, Georgia. Then in 2019, they announced that they had cut their carbon footprint by more than 50% since 2010.
Milliken – South Carolina, USA
The Milliken Carpet Take Back program provides a non-landfill disposal solution and ensures that used carpet is recovered and managed in the most environmentally, socially, and financially responsible way. “No Carpet to Landfill Pledge,” established in 2002, Milliken Floor Covering offers a variety of programs to support landfill diversion and the recycling and reuse of their products. In 2008 Milliken became a founder member of Carpet Recycling UK (CRUK).
Kruse Carpet Recycling
While it doesnt make sense to ship your carpet long distances to be recycled, it is interesting to know what really happens to it when it goes to be “recycled”. This company is an example of that. Recycling for over 30 years, this family company has processed over 100 million pounds of carpet.
While not all of the plastic is recyclable, Kruse has found a use for some of it, and that is mixing it with sand for the racetracks for horses. While it is said to hold the sand together and provide more firm footing for the horses, they are putting the least desirable plastics in ground-up form, out in nature. That seems counterproductive to the whole idea of trying to keep microplastics out of nature.
And plainly written on their website is the fact that much of it will go to the incinerator. While this is better than going to the landfill, its not what most people picture when they send something to be recycled.
DuPont -Deleware, USA
Since 1991, the DuPont Carpet Reclamation Program has reclaimed more than 60 million lbs. of carpet. Recycled content is used to manufacture carpet fiber, resilient flooring tiles, carpet cushion, sod reinforcement, and automobile parts. DuPont was acquired by the Dow Chemical company in 2015, and while Dow has a recyclable carpet backer, they do not seem to be a vocal leader in recycling.
Econyl – Ljubljana, Slovenia
Econyl is one of the companies in Europe that has been recycling carpets along with fishing nets since 2011. Now with five locations in the US under the Aquafil name, they are recycling carpet and making useful plastic for other manufactures. Their Econyl recycled nylon thread is used in new carpet, clothing, shoes, and more.
Mohawk flooring – Georgia, USA
Mohawk is recycling carpets through their ReCover Program, and not just their own carpet but also from other manufactures. They operate the world’s largest integrated plastic bottle recycling center in Summerville, where they convert 3 billion bottles a year into materials used for new, reusable carpet components. Mohawk’s Everstrand carpet is made of 100% recycled PET, from recycled water and soda bottles.
They also installed 1,400 solar panels on their roof in 2015 that produce approximately 628,000 kilowatt-hours of electricity annually. Being the largest flooring manufacturer in the world, this is leading the way by example. If you have carpet you want to recycle, contact them.
Los Angeles Fiber Company – California, USA
Stan and Ronald Greitzer developed a company in 1983 to process the raw materials needed for Reliance Carpet Cushion. LA Fiber quickly became the largest recycler of carpet and textile materials on the West Coast and continues to be an industry leader in the waste management and post-consumer carpet recycling industries.
With all the available locations to recycle carpet, you should be able to find one near you. And if it matters to you ask some questions and find out where the carpet will go. Stay curious and if you found this helpful, share it with someone. Together we can make change happen. Here are a few more resources to find someone to recycle your used carpet.