The Carpet Recycling Primer

July 11, 2012

It’s not hard losing track of the many items we throw out that might be terrific candidates for recycling. Let’s put carpet near the top of that list. Freelance writer Lucy Massey provides some solid information on carpeting, the primary materials used in its manufacture, along with some useful information about recycled carpets and the Carpet America Recovery Effort (CARE).

Carpet recycling keeps valuable natural resources from ending up in landfill. For this reason, carpet companies across the US are now looking into carpet recycling, with more and more of them sending old carpet to recycling centers rather than to the dump. As carpet is the most common floor covering in US homes, recycling old carpets makes a lot of environmental sense. Let’s take a look at what happens to carpet when it goes to the recycling center.

First, the types of fibers in the carpet are identified to see whether they are recyclable. Currently, most recycling centers are able to process nylon 6, a common type of carpet fiber. Some can also process nylon 6.6, another type of nylon that is used to make carpets. The fibers in most carpets are a blend of nylon and other materials such as polypropylene, polyester, and acrylic.

Carpets identified as containing nylon are shredded so that the recyclable parts can be separated from the non-recyclable parts. Often the carpet fibers are heated: nylon’s high melting point means that it can withstand the heat while other components melt away. Through these processes, pure nylon can be recovered from a carpet consisting of a mixture of materials.

Much of the nylon that is recovered from the carpet is used to make new carpet, but some of it is also used to make components for vehicles. Nylon is very strong and durable, which makes it suitable for a wide range of applications. Because nylon is made from oil, a natural resource that is quickly running out, it is essential to recover as much nylon as possible from old carpets.

Homeowners who want to recycle their old carpets should contact the Carpet America Recovery Effort (CARE). The United States doesn’t yet have a well-defined system for collecting and recycling carpet, but CARE holds a list of recycling centers throughout the country that accept carpets for recycling.

Some carpet retailers are partnering with recycling centers to encourage consumers to choose the eco-friendly disposal option when they replace or remove the carpets in their homes. Many parts of unwanted carpets, such as the backing, fibers and yarn, can be salvaged and used to make new carpets.

When shopping for recycled carpet, consumers should look for a carpet that contains a high percentage of recycled materials. The most environmentally friendly recycled carpets are colored with natural dyes rather than volatile organic compounds (VOCs).

Although the carpet recycling process uses some energy, the amount of energy used is much less than would be needed to make a new carpet from scratch. Recycling carpet also prevents valuable raw materials from ending up in landfill. According to CARE, around 5 billion tons of carpet go into landfill sites every year. With suitable landfill sites quickly filling up, reducing that gigantic figure should be a top priority for society.

There is a cost associated with carpet recycling: most centers charge between 5 and 25 cents per pound of carpet. However, this charge must be weighed against the cost of disposing of the carpet in landfill. Businesses and consumers must also consider the raw materials and energy that can be saved by recycling old carpet. Carpet recycling protects the planet and its resources so that we can carry on enjoying them for longer.

Author Bio: Lucy Massey has written this for Empire flooring. A freelance writer and interior designer, she has a penchant for recycling and upcycling. She frequents thrift stores and regularly partakes in bargain hunts, searching for the perfect item. 

Photo credits: tonivc on flickrIfphotos on flickr




Glenn Meyers

Writer, documentary producer, and director. Meyers is a contributor to CleanTechnica, and founder of Green Streets MediaTrain, a communications connection and eLearning hub. As an independent producer, he's been involved in the development, production and distribution of television and distance learning programs for both the education industry and corporate sector. He also is an avid gardener and loves sustainable innovation.