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Sustainable carpets & recycling

An important aspect of sustainability often overlooked is the extension of a product’s life. Many times, carpet is replaced not because it is not durable or has worn out, but because it has “uglied out” and no longer retains the appearance of a new carpet.

The Carpet and Rug Institute (CRI), USA, has been helping consumers deal with such problems because laying carpets involves not only the investment, but also the ramifications of a carpet that gets replaced before its time is due. Premature replacement of carpet adds to the industry’s environmental footprint.

New raw materials and new construction designs will both have a major impact on our environmental footprint. Chemistries improve light fastness and cleanability so that carpet fibres last longer. The longer a carpet remains looking and performing like new, the less need there is to replace it and either recycle it or send it to the landfill.

Following strict practices, like identifying vacuums, which are best suited to keep all surfaces as clean as possible by vacuum cleaning without putting dust back into the air. This is the first step in helping to preserve the life of carpet. Vacuum cleaners that remove soil, contain dust within the filtration bag and the machine itself, leave the carpet damage free and help retain its looking good appearance. Vacuum manufacturers over the years have made significant strides in improving containment of respirable particulates.

CRI has introduced Carpet Cleaning Products Testing Program. This new programme has set its sights on carpet spot removal cleaning products as well as pre-spray and in-tank cleaning products.

Majority of the untested products bought off the shelf prove to be ineffective and even hasten the carpet’s demise by promoting re-soiling. The chemicals actually strip the carpet of some of its stain resistant properties so that dirt easily adheres to the carpet in that spot in a matter of days.

By identifying effective and safe chemicals to clean carpet extends the life of the carpet product.

Companies are striving to do the right thing in their own cleaning and maintenance programmes. Most companies use non-hazardous, cleaning chemicals or have a site committee to select products based on performance and environmental and safety criteria. Non-hazardous, aqueous cleaners and citrus products are used in place of solvents for degreasers and machine parts washing. Some companies have gone to major process cleaning utilizing high-pressure water systems with no chemicals and using biodegradable cleaning compounds for building and office cleaning and maintenance.

Recycling

Although more efficient manufacturing is reducing excess carpet waste, such as selvedges, trimmings and shearings, the industry has found creative uses for carpet by-products, such as carpet trim and yarn scraps, to avoid the use of local landfills. The following are some examples of how the Carpet and Rug Institute members are recycling their carpet products:

  • Fibre and yarn that cannot be reused in manufacturing are recovered for use in other products;
  • Excess carpet is cut into rugs and mats and sold for other uses;
  • Waste carpet trimmings, backing and yarn often are sold to recycling plants to be processed into such items as carpet cushion, furniture battings and cushions, reinforcing filler for concrete, fence posts, road underlayment, plastic lumber and automotive parts;
  • Polyethylene packaging, used to wrap carpet yarn spools and other raw materials, is recycled into plastic pellets to be sold to extruders of film, plastic wrap or plastic trash bags, or it is used in molded items;
  • Other materials used in the manufacturing process, such as cardboard, paper, aluminum, wooden pallets, yarn cones, roll cores, liquid containers, raw material packaging and scrap metal, are either reused or recycled.

In most carpet manufacturing, the average is about two to 25% of recycled materials used in carpet fibre production and carpet production. New fibres with much more recycled content are being introduced currently. Some polyester carpets have 100% post-consumer plastic bottles as the fibre source. One programme refurbishes used carpet tiles, making a new product from a totally recycled product. Carpet pad and carpet backings are being produced ranging from 50-100% recycled content.

Postconsumer carpet: Because collecting, sorting and transporting used carpet is such a huge challenge, the tasks are being addressed by carpet and fibre companies and individual entrepreneurs. Several companies have collection sites in place and are developing the means to separate carpet components and recover polymers. The industry is working toward recycling fibre back into fibre and turning Nylon 6 into new fibre. Some companies are refurbishing used carpet modules. Currently, billions of polyethylene terephthalate (PET) plastic beverage bottles each year are used to make polyester carpet fibres.

Compiled from CRI ‘Sustainability Report’

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