Can Carpet be Recycled?

Once you’ve removed your old carpet, you’re left with a mountain of useless flooring that resembles an enormous anthill. It appears to be an extensive load to discard. Each year, around 5 billion pounds (2.2 billion kilograms) of used carpet goes directly to the landfills of US. While the carpet waste is only a small part of the total amount of waste we created, there is an urgent need for reducing this waste. Can recycling a carpet be a solution to this waste? I have made a research on this issue.

So, can carpet be recycled? Carpets are made of various complex fibers that make them nearly impossible to separate in landfills. And, since carpets are made from various materials with chemical makeups, it’s hard to recycle a carpet properly. It is hard however nearly all types of carpet can be recycled. The following enormous obstacle for the carpet business is handling the afterlife of its products. Referred to as cradle-to-cradle manufacturing, industry experts are focused on converting used consumed carpets into a new floor covering. But reaching this goal depends heavily on consumer behavior. Carpet can be broken down to its materials and re-used. An absence of infrastructure means carpet recycling procedures should be considered case by case, contingent upon the carpet material and where you live.

Recycling a carpet is not as easy as recycling bottles, cans or newspapers.Since carpet recycling facilities are not easily found, people looking to dispose of old carpet without going to a landfill may have to find other creative ways. Nonprofit groups specializing in housing may accept used carpet and carpet scraps and some of the recycling centers may also be helpful.

Just like dumping at a landfill, recycling carpet isn’t free. The fees will usually change between 5 and 25 cents per pound. However, the future of cradle-to-cradle carpeting is heavily dependent upon the effort of consumers who wants to recycle their carpet. Luckily, it’ll most likely to become simpler and less expensive to recycle carpet as interest for carpet recycling facilities and services grows.

Carpet recycling procedures depend on the material of the carpet. Therefore, I will begin by answering the question ‘What is a carpet made of?’ briefly, then I will give detailed information on how different carpets are recycled.

What is a Carpet Made Of?

Fiber is the basic material that a carpet is made up of. Synthetic fiber is used for almost over ninety percent of carpet made in these days. All the rest is made from natural fibers, mostly wool. First, let’s begin with synthetic fibers.

There are three materials used to make up synthetic fibers;
nylon, polypropylene or polyester. These are all created by chemical processes involving natural gas and oil, that is why they are called synthetic.

You may be interested in buying carpets manufactured from recycled plastic bottles if you are looking for things made from recycled items.

If not mixed with anything else, materials such as nylon and wool are hard to recycle, especially when they are new. The ‘pile’, which is the upper part of the carpet you use, is though to separate from the ‘backing’, which is the under part of the carpet. That is why carpets are not easy to recycle.
Even though carpet recycling is a problem that recycling companies tackle and mostly fail, few of them finally managed to make it work.

Carpet Recycling Procedures

When you are ready to divest yourself of any old carpet in your home, it is a good idea to recycle it if possible. Carpet materials are non-biodegradable and they are hard to handle for landfill workers. Additionally, they create huge piles which are tough to move for operators, even tough to drive over.

Carpet is not the easiest thing to recycle. Here are some recycling procedures depending on their materials:

Recycling Wool Rich Carpet

Fibers from wool rich carpets are great for insulation. They are used in underlay and heat and sound insulation after recycled. In order to make new materials, old carpet fibers are pulled out and mixed with other fibers. This process is also used for offcuts of prıduced carpets. In the end, carpet manufacturers can create a closed-loop system which will not send any material to landfills.

Since they have a high nitrogen content, the fibers from wool-rich carpet are ideal as a peat replacement and soil enhancer for contained growing media (for example, in growing mats for herbs, green roofs, and compost.)

Recycling Synthetic Carpets

Equestrian surfaces: Mixed synthetic carpet is dismembered and then blended with sand, to form a surface for equestrian use.
Nylon recovery:  Nylon from carpets can be extruded and injection molded into engineering plastics such as washing machine parts or wheel trims.
Polypropylene recovery: Carpets with polypropylene face fiber and polypropylene backing can be shredded, granulated and extruded into pellets.

Carpet Tile Re-use and Recycling

Carpet tiles, or modular carpet, are highly popular as a carpeting option for commercial environments and other projects. Mostly squares are cut from wall to wall carpets to make them. But also, some carpet manufacturers make other shapes or sizes like hexagons. But these procedures increase the complexity of the job and also the cost.

Carpet tiles can be beneficial since they offer easy maintenance and installation, long life together with the same quality for a healthy indoor usage just as the wall to wall carpets. In that sense, they are great alternatives to wall to wall carpets in almost every situation not requiring unique designs.

Where carpet tiles aren’t suitable for re-use, they can be recycled. The procedure involves separating the nylon fibers from the bitumen backing. The fibers are then recycled into yarn for new carpetings and the bitumen into some applications such as roofing and road surfaces.

‘Energy from Waste’ with Carpets

Energy from Waste (EfW), is a term used for various procedures that can convert non-recyclable waste into different usable forms of energy including heat, fuel, and electricity. EfW is possible through a number of ways such as incineration, gasification, pyrolysis, anaerobic digestion, and landfill gas recovery.

The term EfW is usually used in reference to incineration which burns completely combusted waste at ultra-high temperatures allowing for energy recovery. Even though this process sounds polluting, modern incineration facilities use pollution control equipment to prevent the release of emissions into the environment.  Currently, incineration is the only EfW technology that is economically viable and operationally feasible.

There will always be some carpet waste that can’t be recycled, because it is too difficult to separate the complex materials or because the carpet is too contaminated by what’s been spilled on it while used. As carpet has a high calorific value with its complex materials, this unrecyclable carpet waste can be put to use to produce energy from waste (EfW) – for example, as a fuel replacement.

How to Recycle Carpet Padding?

Carpet padding is the material between the floor and your carpet which gives your carpet some extra cushion and protects it. It is made by tearing polyurethane foam down and mixing it with other various materials.

Since the main material of carpet padding is foam, it is easier for recycling companies to work on it, when compared to carpets. So, you can find more places recycling carpet padding that will accept yours. Again, check with the recycling company to see if they accept your carpet padding.

It should be kept in mind that soiled or moldy carpets and carpet paddings are contaminated and cannot be recycled. Foam recycling programs will not accept these kinds of carpets and paddings since it is not healthy to reuse these materials.

How to Reuse Carpet?

Carpet is not the easiest thing to recycle and it takes some effort for both the consumer and recycling company. If you cannot find a place to take it, you can think of whether you can reuse some or all of it.

Carpet and throw rugs are often treated differently for reuse purposes. Some shops may take your rugs if they are still in good shape. But, it is harder to find a place that is willing to take wall-to-wall carpeting. The main reason is that; it is really hard to sell a second-hand carpet because most people want to buy a carpet that is an exact fit for their living space. If your carpet is still in a good shape, you may be able to use it for other purposes in your house.

5 Ideas to Reuse Your Old Carpet Scraps

1. Make Floor Mats

You may cut some parts of your old carpet to use as mats indoor or outdoor. They will keep your feet warm for the walks in your garden or garage. You can also make outdoor mats to wipe your shoes before you come into the house.

2. Use It To Move Heavy Furniture

Little bits of old carpet is a great solution for protecting your hardwood floors, especially you like to rearrange your furniture a lot. You can cut small carpet squares and place them under the legs of your furniture.

3. Make A Scratching Post For Your Cat

Cats always love to scratch carpets, so why not making them a scratching post from your old carpet parts!

Even carpeting in poor condition can make cats happy and it will not take so much time to make a post out of your old carpets.

4. Prevent Spillage From Overwatering Plants

You can cut your carpet and place them under the pots of your plants in order to protect your floors from the mess of overwatering plants. The majority of water will be soaked up by the carpet and it will save you from cleaning after watering.

5. Make Disposable Car Mats

Scraps of your old carpet can be reused as mats inside your car. When they get dirty from rain or beach sand, you can easily wash them or toss them and make new ones.

Related Questions

Can Carpet be Thrown in Trash?

Technically, it is acceptable to discard carpet in the trash. But of course, it depends on the amount of carpet you are throwing away. If you are planning to throw away in large amounts, it may be a problem in the trash and sanitation workers may not be willing to take. You may check your bulk pick-up days or take your carpet to a designated drop-off point. Cutting your carpet and throwing a little away at a time in your trach might be a solution. If you are planning to throw away a small carpet which will fit inside the trash bin, it will not be a problem.

Although it seems to be the easiest way for getting rid of your old carpet, it is definitely not earth-friendly. Carpets are full of complex fibers that make them impossible to break down in landfills. There are lots of other alternatives for repurposing your old carpet, especially if it is in a good condition. If recycling is not an option for you, you may sell, donate or reuse your old carpet. Americans send around 5 billion pounds of carpet a year into landfills, so stuffing it into the trash isn’t the best alternative. Try going green for your next carpet purchase.

Does It Cost Anything to Recycle Old Carpet?

Recycling is not free. It will approximately cost between 5 cents to 25 cents per pound of old carpet to recycle. The cost will depend on the material of the carpet you have, how it was installed and where you live. You may think carpet as waste, and it should be free to recycle carpets.However, it costs money to pick it up, identify the kind of fiber it is made of, break it down into the components, convert these components into another form and use to make a new product, and transport the raw material to the manufacturing location.

For all these recycling procedures, for the equipment, salaries of workers, insurance, energy costs, maintenance, there is a need for investment which makes recycling unfeasible to be free.

I’ve Heard That My Recyclable Materials Don’t Actually Get Recycled, They Get Hauled to the Dump. Is That True?

Your recycling is headed for the sorting facility, not the dump. The main reason is that it costs money to deliver trash to the dump, which is called a tipping fee. Also, recyclable materials are valuable and can be sold for profit.

However, in every recycling center, some of the items which are deposited in recycling bins are sent out to the trash after the sorting out process. The reason is they are not recyclable in the first place even though people put them into the recycle bin hoping these items are recyclable. These items are called ‘wish-cycled’.

Also in some cases, recyclables are so heavily contaminated with hazardous materials or non-recyclables that they must be sent away to the trash.

Savaş Ateş

I'm a software engineer. I like history and reading about carpets. I like to play soccer too :)

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