By Robert Peoples, Ph.D.
From the June 2014 issue of Today’s Facility Manager
Replacing carpet in a building is often an exciting project for a facility manager (fm), and it is an investment that occurs every seven to 10 years on average. But in the process of choosing and installing a new floor covering, determining an environmentally responsible destination for the used carpet might not be a priority in the project. While the easiest solution is to have the old floor covering sent out to a landfill, there are a growing number of options and good reasons to recycle used carpet.
Current statistics indicate that approximately four billion pounds of used carpet are deposited in landfills each year. This significant burden on the environment can be avoided by proactive approaches taken with each commercial carpet installation. Recycling turns a landfill liability into a raw material opportunity.
When any amount of carpet is prevented from going into a landfill (where it does not decompose), the amount (pounds) of carpet diverted can be directly tied to energy and water use reductions as well as global warming aversion. These figures can be calculated to help expand an organization’s sustainability profile, including contributing to LEED-EBOM points.
And recycled carpet can be used to manufacture a variety of sustainable products, including construction materials, automotive parts, and new floor coverings. The process of transforming used carpet material into new products with recycled content presents a distinct set of opportunities and challenges for those involved, and it begins with the fm’s commitment to find a responsible solution for the facility’s used floor covering.
Evaluating Recycling Resources
After deciding to pursue recycling for the used carpet, the first step is to evaluate the capabilities of the project’s flooring contractor, installer, or both. Fms should ask these service providers if they have experience recycling carpet, and if they have relationships with local recyclers.
A recycler will likely ask to have the used carpet delivered to their location, which the flooring contractor or installer should be able to coordinate. Or, they may set up a trailer at the facility where the carpet can be deposited after its removal; then it is delivered to the recycler’s location.
If they want to find and connect with a recycler directly, fms can visit the Carpet America Recovery Effort (CARE) website at www.carpetrecovery.org. Visitors there should click on the map of the United States, and from there enter the facility’s zip code to find a list of the nearest CARE Certified Recyclers. There are search options to narrow the search.
Fms should keep in mind that developing recycler relationships and evaluating options can be a long journey, and the face fiber of the used carpet plays a significant role in the potential success of a recycling effort.
Carpet Types, And Face Fibers
As most fms probably know, carpet is available in two options: broadloom and tile. Today, most carpet tile is sold in the commercial space and can be recycled back into new carpet tile with relative ease. Meanwhile, broadloom carpet is found in both commercial and residential settings. This type of carpet is available in five varieties: nylon 6, nylon 66, polyester (PET), Triexta (sold under the Sorona brand name and sometimes referred to as PTT), and polypropylene (PP).
The majority of broadloom commercial carpet is of the nylon variety, and is usually glued down. The combination of glue, lower pile height and stronger construction makes commercial carpet a much more difficult material to recycle compared to residential. For this reason, recyclers vary on their acceptance of commercial broadloom products.
Nylon is considered the best commercial and residential carpet fiber type for recycling. There are good outlets available for recycling all nylon 6 carpet products, and strong outlets for nylon 66 recovery. However, there are very limited outlets of consequence for PET carpet, except in California. Outlets for PP are very limited, and there are currently no recycle options for PTT. (The CARE website allows users to search for recyclers by the type of fiber they handle.)
Despite the current challenges, CARE is working closely with mills and recyclers to help develop sustainable end of life options for PET, PTT, and PP fibers. There are also new innovations on the horizon for manufacturing PET carpet that can be easily recycled into new products.
In the meantime, fms should think ahead to the end of their carpet’s useable life even as soon as their initial purchase. Choosing an easily recycled product and fiber type at this first step can significantly expand the recycling options when the time comes to replace the carpet.
Peoples currently serves as the Executive Director of the Carpet America Recovery Effort (CARE), a 501c3 nonprofit organization charged with developing market based solutions for the recycling and reuse of post-consumer carpet.