Sustainability of Rugs and Carpets

by Richard M. Goodman

We often overlook some rather obvious sources of environmental degradation or missed opportunities to conduct ourselves in a sustainable way.  I recently encountered information about an area of sustainability many of us would never consider.

In talking to a representative from a major carpet manufacturer, I learned that discarded carpets and rugs historically have taken up about 3% of landfills.  While that’s not a huge percentage, it does represent a significant amount of stuff — dirty, old, unsightly carpets that are hard to condense into landfill space and consist of many materials deliberately designed not to be very biodegradable.

What I learned is that the carpet manufacturers through their Carpet and Rug Institute (CRI) have developed a program to potentially recycle 100% of used carpets.  It is noteworthy that they have done this rather quietly without a major PR campaign or expensive commercial hype.

CRI has established carpet and rug recycling centers where used carpets can be properly segregated, broken down (where appropriate) into components and raw materials for recycling.  The CRI has defined a Seal Of Approval for carpets that spells out how the manufacturer is to describe the materials of construction and how they are to be recycled.  Components end up in plastics feedstock, new carpets, etc.

The vast majority of carpets are used in commercial buildings such as hotels and office buildings, and owners should recycle carpets when renovating their properties. Consumers can do their part by recycling carpets as well. Montgomery County provides free carpet recycling under its Bulk Trash Collections program.

Currently, more than 70% of carpets nationwide are recycled. The goal is 100%, and when that happens, a significant waste stream to landfills will have been eliminated.

Richard M. Goodman, PhD, is a chemical scientist and consultant focusing on how surface science concepts can solve real world problems.  His periodic blog posts consider aspects of sustainability from a scientific perspective. See Goodman’s profile with Association of Consulting Chemists and Chemical Engineers (ACC&CE) at www.chemconsult.org.

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