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Carpet Recycling: A Movement Underfoot

March 5th, 2008

By Shermakaye Bass

So, you’ve just picked out a silky new carpet for your house in just the right shade of taupe. Ever wonder where thecarpet-cushion-for-care-report.jpg outgoing squished padding and retired, coffee-stained carpet are off to? Chances are they’re both headed to the landfill, where they will grow musty and take up mountains of space.

Every year, used carpet accounts for 5 billion pounds of U.S. landfill waste, occupying four percent of the country’s designated dump space.

That’s a lot, says carpet-recovery leader Robert Peoples, but the figures could have been worse had major industry players not banded together with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to form the nonprofit Carpet America Recovery Effort (CARE) in 2002.

Since then, landfill-bound carpet has decreased by five percent annually, he says. CARE’s goal is to bring that to 40 percent by 2012.

“Right now, 261 million pounds (of the 5 billion) are diverted from landfills,” says Peoples, executive director of CARE, adding that the country’s economic downturn has slowed the nascent carpet-recovery movement. “There’s no question that there’s a long way to go. The good news is we’ve started the process.”

Peoples says that all major carpet manufacturers have started reclamation programs for commercial carpet (key word – commercial, not residential) and though a 5 percent annual recycling rate is not ideal, it’s the reality, given the timing. “Keep in mind, we’re building a brand new industry. No infrastructure existed before to do this – no infrastructure to collect PCC (post-consumer carpet), no infrastructure to process the materials, no infrastructure to manufacture new products from those materials. And no real market for those new products has been developed. You’re starting an industry from ground zero.”

The other, bigger-picture good news is that materials retrieved from those musty old carpets (euphemistically dubbed “post consumer carpet,” or PCC, in the industry) can be made into all sorts of very functional, every-day items, from sewage pipe to packaging materials to automotive parts and insulation – to, well, new carpet.

Only, the retrieval process is a major problem for small retailers, says Kentucky carpet dealer Jason Crandall. At the moment, a relative handful of middle-men exist to get PCC back to dealers and other recyclers. Fortunately for him, a major collector is based a couple hours away, but he knows that’s not the case for many retailers around the country.

“I started having mine recycled in November of 2007,” says Crandall, whose Carpet Unlimited contracts with Louisville-based Carpet Recyclers of Kentuckiana to sort, bale and recycle what it can of the largely petroleum-based material, returning all it can carpet manufacturers like Shaw, MoHawk, Milliken, Beaulieu and others.


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