According to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), more than four billion pounds of carpeting enters the waste stream each year in the United States alone. And like most things in American landfills, carpets do not—and cannot—decompose.

Unfortunately, carpet waste is inevitable, especially in commercial settings. The average carpet has a lifespan of 5-10 years before it requires replacement. In businesses with a lot of foot traffic or less-durable flooring, carpet replacement (and therefore carpet waste) is a common occurrence.

Due to the diverse materials that make up the average carpet, you can’t just drop off your old rugs in the nearest recycling bin. But there are still ways to ensure that your carpet’s valuable materials don’t end up in a landfill.

This guide to carpet recycling will cover carpet materials, carpet recycling methods, and the benefits of recycled carpet.

  1. What Makes Up a Carpet?
  2. The Negative Effects of Carpet Waste
  3. How to Recycle Carpet
  4. Carpet Recycling Barriers and Solutions

What Makes Up a Carpet?

The average carpet consists of two key elements: the outer fibers and the backing. These unique parts are made of their own mix of materials, including textiles, adhesives, and dyes. In reality, the majority of carpet material boils down to one category of waste: plastic.

The outer fibers of a carpet (the part you see and walk on) most commonly consist of nylon, polypropylene, and polyester. These are synthetic fibers created through chemical processes using petroleum. Each of these fibers has a completely different makeup and therefore has completely different recycling needs.

Then comes the base of the rug. This backing is most commonly made of latex (more plastic) or polyvinyl chloride (PVC). PVC-backed rugs are the most common backing found in commercial and business settings and are easier to recycle than latex backings.

The Negative Effects of Carpet Waste

Sending a carpet to the landfill is just like sending plastics to a landfill. While carpets are composed of many different kinds of plastic, it’s plastic all the same—and it is therefore extremely difficult to break down.

These plastics can, however, be recycled and repurposed for other uses. Recovering these valuable materials can replace the production of new materials, lowering fossil fuel use. Plus, by diverting otherwise recyclable waste from landfills, we can lower carbon emissions and move towards a greener, more sustainable future.

Carpet waste currently accounts for two percent of all municipal solid waste by volume, and one percent by weight. By recycling carpet, landfill space is freed up and there is an influx of recycled, valuable material in the production stream.

How to Recycle Carpet

There are a few options for businesses looking to recycle old carpets instead of sending them to the landfill:

  1. Search for local collection sites: Research the materials your local waste services accept—there’s a chance they accept carpet or carpet scraps at the public level. The Carpet America Recovery Effort (CARE) has created an interactive map of collection sites and available collectors for carpet recycling.
  2. Partner with a waste hauler service that includes carpet recycling: Waste partners like Rubicon® can customize recycling plans for all of your business’s waste streams. This includes tough-to-process material like carpets. Learn more about Rubicon’s commercial waste and recycling solutions.
  3. Contact the manufacturer of your carpet to determine if they offer pick-up services: Oftentimes, recycling services for your commercial carpets can be coordinated with the carpet manufacturer themselves. This could mean purchasing from a manufacturer that you know provides recycling services, or purchasing a carpet with recycling and end-of-life services built into the price.

Carpet Recycling Process: How is Carpet Recycled?

Carpet recycling centers work to harvest the valuable material from old carpets and create new, repurposed material.

The carpet recycling process begins with identifying and separating material. To separate the layers of carpet, they are sometimes sent through a machine that cleans, shreds, shears, and separates the material.

This newly separated material can then be reused in the production of new carpets. Another step of processing can mold recovered material into more sophisticated products, such as appliance and car parts.

Products Made from Recycled Carpet

Many products can utilize materials made from recycled carpets instead of mining raw, valuable material. These include:

  • Engineered resin;
  • New carpet fiber;
  • New carpet backing;
  • Composite lumber;
  • Roofing shingles;
  • Railroad ties;
  • Car parts;
  • Stepping stones;
  • Filler; and
  • Insulation.

According to CARE’s 2017 report, “81% of recycled post-consumer carpet is manufactured into
engineered resins.”

Engineered resins are high-strength plastic resins used to produce durable goods like traffic signs, tiles, car parts, and more. As oil prices rise, the production of new material becomes more and more expensive—and the value of these kinds of recyclables grows.

Carpet Recycling Barriers and Solutions

With a lack of wide-spread, accessible infrastructure supporting carpet-specific recycling, the rate of recycling for this valuable material is low. In fact, only around four percent of carpet waste is recycled, even with the majority of its materials being recyclable.

Rubicon wants to change this. Our experts help businesses find the right place for every piece of waste they produce—including carpet waste.

Rubicon creates waste carpet recycling solutions for your business, and its full-service offerings cover other commercial waste streams including food waste, organics recycling, electronic and hazardous waste, and more.

If you have any questions, or you are interested in learning more about Rubicon’s carpet recycling services, please contact us today.

Meredith Leahy is a Waste Diversion Manager at Rubicon. To stay ahead of Rubicon’s announcements of new partnerships and collaborations around the world, be sure to follow us on LinkedIn, Facebook, and Twitter, or contact us today.