Community Waste Prevention Toolkit: Carpet Fact Sheet
Preventing Carpet Waste
Every year, 4 billion pounds of carpet are discarded in the United States,(1) of which only about 1 percent is recycled.(2) For commercial facilities, government agencies, and institutions such as schools and hospitals, disposing of large amounts of used carpet can be a major cost issue. Carpet also poses waste management problems because it consumes enormous amounts of landfill space due to its bulk — 2 percent of solid waste by volume, according to the US Environmental Protection Agency.(3) In addition, the incineration of discarded carpet — especially products with polyvinyl chloride ( PVC) backing — can release toxic chemicals, including dioxin, into the air. PVC often contains phthalate-based softening agents, which are recognized as reproductive toxins that may contribute to indoor pollution.
This fact sheet provides strategies for purchasing, maintaining, and recycling carpet to minimize waste and pollution.
- Carpet Facts
- Carpet Waste Prevention Strategies
- How to Structure a Bid Solicitation for Environmentally Preferable Carpeting
- Manufacturer-Sponsored Programs to Collect and Recycle Used Carpet
- Government Initiatives to Encourage Industrywide Collection and Recycling of Used Carpet
- Additional Suggestions for Reducing Carpet-Related Waste and Pollution
- Additional Information
- Almost 60 percent of the carpet made in the US — including the carpeting found in office buildings, schools, and other commercial and institutional facilities — is made of either nylon 6 or nylon 6,6. (4)
- Smaller amounts of commercial carpet are made of polyolefin (33.4 percent), polyester (6.8 percent), and wool (0.4 percent), or of polyethylene terephthalate (PET), polypropylene, and other materials of insufficient value to support large-scale recycling.
- Face fiber accounts for one-third to one-half the weight of carpet; the rest is backing, filler, and adhesives.
- Face fiber made of nylon 6 can be economically recycled back into the feedstock used to make face fiber.
- Nylon 6,6 can be economically “downcycled” into a less valuable material that is made into automobile parts and other plastic items.
- Carpet is sold in two forms: rolls (referred to as broadloom) and tiles (similar to linoleum squares).
Carpet Waste Prevention Strategies
1. Extend the life of your carpet.
Carpeting tends to collect and hold dirt, dust mites, and other contaminants. It can also be damaged by stains caused by spills and leaks of water and other substances. Frequent, regular maintenance is critical to a carpet’s durability. The King County, Washington, Environmental Purchasing Program recommends: (5)
- Cleaning up spills immediately to prevent stains and fungus.
- Using entrance mats to keep nearby carpets clean.
- Vacuuming heavily trafficked areas daily, using equipment with powerful suction and a high-efficiency particulate air (HEPA) filtration bag.
- Extraction cleaning every six to twelve months, preferably with hot water or steam.
Before discarding and replacing large sections of carpet, determine whether professional cleaning, stain removal, or restoration could reduce the area that needs to be replaced. Some carpet manufacturers offer refurbishment services and extended warranties that can save you money by reducing the frequency of carpet replacement. For example:
- Interface offers a maintenance program and its Total Re:Source Warranty, which guarantees the company’s carpet for up to 15 years (see http://www.interfaceinc.com/us/services/Maintenance/).
- Milliken & Co.’s Earth Square, or E2, reconditioning process offers cleaning, retexturing, and restyling of carpet tiles with a full warranty on the refurbished product. Milliken claims that this process costs about half the amount of purchasing new carpet, while conserving energy and raw materials.(6) The company’s MilliCare Perpetual FloorPlan package includes carpet maintenance, refurbishing, reinstallation, and reuse options (see http://www.millicare.com/).
When sections of carpet are finally worn out or indelibly stained, consider whether there are sections that still have value. In Indiana, state agencies reuse carpet remnants as mats for walkways and other heavily trafficked areas.(7)
2. Consider alternatives to carpeting.
In some instances, carpet may not be the most environmentally preferable — or practical — flooring option. More durable, stain-resistant floor coverings may be better choices for areas susceptible to spills, moisture, or heavy use, such as kitchens, dining rooms, hallways, lobbies, and workshops. Save on maintenance and replacement costs by limiting carpet to areas where a softer surface is needed for noise reduction or comfort.
Other floor coverings to consider include wood (sustainably grown and harvested brands are available and are considered the environmentally preferable choice), rubber (especially for sports surfaces), ceramic tile, stone, and natural linoleum. Many of these products contain recycled content and are competitively priced with nonrecycled floor coverings. In Minnesota, for example, the St. Paul Neighborhood Energy Consortium used stained concrete floors in its library and small conference room.(8) Avoid vinyl flooring products, which typically contain toxic softening agents (phthalates) and can release dioxin and other harmful substances when burned in a building fire or trash incinerator.
3. Select features that will help your carpet last longer.
If carpet is necessary, specify durable products such as those with relatively low pile height and/or high fiber density. Nylon carpet is known for its durability. A high-quality carpet pad can also reduce wear.
Alternatively, consider carpet tiles instead of broadloom. Carpet tiles are becoming increasingly popular for offices and institutions where foot traffic is heavy. Although tiles may be more expensive initially, they can save money over time because individual sections of the carpet, rather than the entire floor covering, can be easily replaced as needed. Compared to broadloom, carpet tiles usually require few or no adhesives, which emit toxic air pollutants. Avoid tiles that are backed with PVC (vinyl). Carpet tiles with PVC-free backing (usually made with polyolefin or polypropylene) are available from Interface, Milliken & Co, and Shaw Industries.
Choose carpet with patterns that are easy to match in case sections need to be replaced. The Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University renovated its 2400-square-foot computer lab using Milliken’s Earth Square carpet tiles, made from six-year-old carpet that has been cleaned, retextured, and restyled using modern carpet designs.(9)
4. Purchase refurbished carpet that meets your needs.
Several major carpet manufacturers, including Interface and Milliken, will sell or donate carpeting that has been reclaimed from other businesses and institutions, cleaned, and/or restored. Reconditioned carpet, sometimes referred to as “repurposed,” may also be available from independent carpet vendors.
5. Consider leasing carpet instead of purchasing it outright.
Under leasing agreements, the vendor charges a monthly service fee for use of the carpet, usually over a negotiated period. In exchange, the leasing company may take responsibility for carpet installation, maintenance, removal, and recycling. Leasing often creates an incentive for the vendor to reuse and recycle carpet waste to avoid paying for its disposal. Purchasers can also include contract language requiring vendors to certify that a carpet will be reused or recycled when it is returned. Leasing has lower up-front costs compared to purchasing carpet outright, and though it may be more expensive in the long run, this is often because the cost includes maintenance, take-back, and recycling.
Minnesota encourages state agencies to lease carpet.(10) Interface offers a leasing program for its carpet tiles (see http://www.interfaceglobal.com/). Other companies, such as DuPont and Shaw, offer maintenance agreements (similar to leases) in which carpet is cleaned and repaired during its useful life, and then removed for recycling at end of life.
6. Return used carpet to vendors.
Purchasers can facilitate carpet recycling by giving contract preference to installers, distributors, and manufacturers that pledge to remove old carpet and reuse or recycle it. Such “take-back” arrangements have the advantage of eliminating the need to establish separate recycling contracts for carpet. Carpet collection and reclamation programs vary from company to company. Some will take back only their own products, while others will accept only a specific type of fiber (usually nylon). Still others will take back any kind of carpet, as long as they can supply the replacement. (See Manufacturer-Sponsored Programs to Collect and Recycle Used Carpet for summaries of each program.)
To recycle used carpet that you do not want to replace, you can set up a separate contract with independent carpet recyclers, usually at a lower cost than disposal. CarpetCycle, a carpet recycler in northern New Jersey, claims to have diverted more than 2.5 million pounds of discarded carpet from landfills in 2000.(11)
7. If you lease office space, work with building managers to purchase carpet products and services that reduce waste.
Businesses, government agencies, and institutions such as schools and hospitals that lease their office space may need to encourage their building’s management company to adopt environmentally preferable practices. This will probably be easier if you try to negotiate such practices in the rental agreement rather than waiting until later.
How to Structure a Bid Solicitation for Environmentally Preferable Carpeting
1. Specify carpet that will be recycled.
The most environmentally sound and economically viable carpet reclamation programs turn old carpet into new carpet that can, in turn, be recycled. Face fiber made from nylon 6 is currently the only carpet material that can be economically recycled back into carpet fiber, thus “closing the loop” and reducing future need for petrochemicals in carpet manufacturing.
In 1999, AlliedSignal (now part of Honeywell International, Inc.) invested more than $80 million in a carpet recycling plant that can turn nylon 6 into caprolactam, the material used to make new nylon 6 fiber. Honeywell claims that its carpet-to-carpet recycling program “will reduce oil use by 700,000 barrels, energy use by 4.4 trillion BTUs, and greenhouse gas emissions by 67 percent” each year.(12) Also in 1999, Interface introduced its floor covering, 100 percent of which can be recycled back into new Solenium. The product also uses 30 percent fewer raw materials than traditional carpet.(13)
2. Specify carpet with recycled content.
By purchasing or leasing carpet made with recycled materials, you can help conserve resources, save energy, and reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Choosing recycled-content carpet also helps build the market for these recyclable materials. According to the Minnesota Office of Environmental Assistance, “Carpet with recycled content meets the same industry performance standards and carries the same manufacturer warrantees as carpet without recycled content for high traffic wear, fire rating, stain resistance, and color fade, given similar appropriate uses.”
Commercial-grade carpeting made with recycled nylon 6 and PET face fiber is available in many colors. Only brands with nylon 6 can be recycled again, so these are considered environmentally preferable. Avoid carpeting that contains PVC — even if it is recycled — in order to discourage its use.
3. Specify a preference for manufacturer take-back of used carpet.
More and more, purchasers are requiring (or giving preference to) carpet vendors that (1) remove old carpet before installing new carpet and (2) guarantee that the collected carpet will be reused or recycled — not landfilled or incinerated. Contracts should list the required features of an acceptable reclamation program. The best proposal might involve an agreement with a company that will take back your old carpet and turn it into new. If you have a variety of carpet types, you may want to contract with a company that accepts any floor covering that can be recycled. Also, consider requiring your vendor to guarantee that it will recycle the carpet it sells you today. This can spur product redesigns that facilitate recycling.
In a pilot take-back program conducted between 1997 and 2000, the state of Washington was able to prevent the landfilling of over 2 million pounds of carpet.(14) King County, Washington’s primary carpet installer, DuPont Flooring Systems, recycled 13,000 pounds of carpet for the county in 1998.(15) Delaware, Massachusetts, and Minnesota now have detailed carpet procurement guidelines. Minnesota, for example, requires contractors to “reclaim/recycle existing carpet removed from the agency’s installation location, regardless of manufacturer fiber type or construction.” The state’s request for bids also states: “The Contractor shall provide certification of product reclamation for each order. Take-back methods may include, but are not limited to, sub-contracting for the collection of used carpet or reclaiming the carpet through a leasing program.”(16)
Manufacturer-Sponsored Programs to Collect and Recycle Used Carpet
BASF’s 6ix Again “closed-loop” recycling program takes back the company’s own certified Zeftron Nylon 6ix carpeting. The face fiber is recycled back into new carpet.
Collins & Aikman’s Infinity Program recycles “any vinyl-backed carpet” into ER3, a 100 percent recycled-content carpet backing that the company uses in its carpet tiles and broadloom. (This program provides a way to recycle PVC-backed carpet that you already own. However, we recommend avoiding the purchase of any new products that contain PVC.) The company also claims that its Powerbond RS installation system “virtually eliminate[s] VOC [volatile organic compound] emissions and odors.”
DuPont’s Carpet Reclamation Program accepts any type of carpet and downcycles it into resilient floor tile, carpet padding, sod reinforcement, and under-the-hood auto parts.
Interface’s ReEntry program recycles carpet nylon into carpet, carpet tiles, and other floor covering products; backing is downcycled into a variety of products, including car parts, carpet padding, and industrial matting. If no other options are available, the nylon is burned in a “trash-to-energy” plant (a process that may create dioxin when PVC-backed carpet is incinerated).
Milliken’s Earth Square program recycles carpet backing and fiber from the company’s own products into new carpet products.
Government Initiatives to Encourage Industrywide Collection and Recycling of Used Carpet
The carpet industry is unique in the United States in starting to take responsibility for its products after disposal by consumers. The industry take-back and recycling programs described in Manufacturer-Sponsored Programs to Collect and Recycle Used Carpet were initiated by the major carpet manufacturers and fiber producers in order to supplement virgin materials with lower-cost recycled nylon and increase market share in a competitive industry by improving their environmental image. In addition, these companies want to deter emerging take-back legislation and prepare for potential bans on the landfilling of carpet, primarily at the state level.
In Minnesota, for example, the state Office of Environmental Assistance issued its Product Stewardship Initiative in 1999, challenging carpet producers — as well as manufacturers of paint and cathode-ray tubes (found in most TV screens and computers) — to find ways of removing their products from the municipal waste stream at industry expense. Carpet companies are participating voluntarily, with the understanding that legislation mandating compliance may be introduced if sufficient progress is not made. Multi-stakeholder task forces have been formed to develop systems to comply, and to set specific goals and evaluation mechanisms for each waste stream.(17)
Partly as a result of this initiative, the Midwestern Workgroup on Carpet Recycling, which included representatives from the EPA, three states, including Minnesota, environmental groups, and other stakeholders, signed a Memorandum of Understanding with the Carpet and Rug Institute, an industry group, in January 2001.(18) The primary purpose of this agreement was to establish an industry-funded private recycling organization that will work to eliminate the need to send carpet to landfills and incinerators. To achieve this goal, the parties agreed to develop “Negotiated Outcomes” (i.e., a negotiated schedule for the eventual elimination of land disposal and incineration with energy recovery of post-consumer carpet and the establishment of escalating goals for recycling and reuse). The workgroup also agreed to adopt model procurement guidelines that “will be tailored to support the efforts of the third party organization and enhance stewardship activities.”(19) In January 2002, another Memorandum of Understanding was entered into between representatives from the EPA, seven state governments (California, Iowa, Maryland, Massachusetts, Minnesota, North Carolina and Oregon), carpet manufacturers and non-governmental organizations to accomplish the Negotiated Outcomes.(20) The Memorandum of Understanding for Carpet Stewardship is a voluntary initiative that encourages manufacturers to assume product stewardship and establishes an ambitious ten-year schedule to increase the amount of reuse and recycling of post-consumer carpet and reduce the amount of waste carpet going into landfills. The initial goals are for the years 2002 through 2012. The carpet industry has established a third-party organization known as the Carpet America Recovery Effort (CARE) to achieve the national goals for reuse and recycling of discarded carpet. CARE’s website, http://www.carpetrecovery.org/, will be the home for information about this national effort to recover carpet waste.
Additional Suggestions for Reducing Carpet-Related Waste and Pollution
- Consider purchasing floor covering made from natural fibers, which originate from renewable resources. Interface, for example, announced in June 2000 that it was preparing to manufacture a new carpet product made of poly lactic acid, a plant-based resin derived from corn.(21) Be aware, however, that no recycling infrastructure exists for these materials.
- In some applications, it may be appropriate to consider rugs instead of carpet. Rugs tend to be durable and can be easily moved from one location to another.
- Require carpet installers to use low-VOC, water-based adhesives — or mechanical fastening devices — rather than solvent-based glues that can release chemicals that contribute to indoor air pollution. According to the National Institutes of Health, new carpet can emit chemicals, and the padding and adhesives emit VOCs. Some people have associated symptoms such as upper respiratory irritations, headaches, and skin rashes with the installation of new carpeting.(22)
- Ask carpet vendors to disclose the VOC levels of their products and give preference to brands that “off-gas” the least. At a minimum, specify carpet that bears the Carpet and Rug Institute’s Indoor Air Quality (IAQ) label.
- Ask carpet vendors to report annually on the amounts of carpet installed, replaced, and recycled.
For a discussion of carpet take-back in the US, see Bette Fishbein, “Carpet Take-Back: EPR American Style,” Environmental Quality Management, Autumn 2000, at https://informinc.org
For information on purchasing guidelines and specifications for environmentally preferable carpeting, see “Carpet,” The Environmentally Preferable Purchasing Guide, Minnesota Office of Environmental Assistance, 2000, at http://www.swmcb.org/EPPG/10_7.asp Also see “Environmentally Responsible Carpet Choices,” King County, Washington, October 2000, at http://www.metrokc.gov/procure/green/carpet.htm
Delaware’s procurement specifications may be found at http://www.state.de.us/purchase/03108-2.pdf
Massachusetts’ specifications are at http://www.state.ma.us/osd/enviro/products/carpet.htm
For information on Minnesota’s Product Stewardship Initiative, see http://www.moea.state.mn.us/stewardship/policy.cfm. Also see the Midwestern Workgroup on Carpet Recycling at http://www.moea.state.mn.us/carpet/index.cfm
1 Bette K. Fishbein, “Carpet Take-Back: EPR American Style,” Environmental Quality Management, Autumn 2000, 25, https://informinc.org/carpettakeback.php.
2 US Environmental Protection Agency, Characterization of Municipal Solid Waste in the United States: 1998 Update, July 1999, 146.
3 US Environmental Protection Agency, “Carpet,” Product Stewardship fact sheet, April 30, 2001, http://www.epa.gov/epr/products/carpet.html.
4 Carpet & Rug Institute, http://www.carpet-rug.com/.
5 “Environmentally Responsible Carpet Choices,” King County, Washington, Environmental Purchasing Program, October 2000, http://www.metrokc.gov/procure/green/carpet.htm.
6 J. Herlihy, “Carpeting-Environmental Manufacture, Installation and Disposal,” Environmental Design and Construction, March/April 1998, 34.
7 Nikki and David Goldbeck, Choose to Reuse: An Encyclopedia of Services, 1995, 85.
8 “Green Buildings: Adding Environmental Features to Construction Projects Late in the Design Phase,” St. Paul [MN] Neighborhood Energy Consortium, April 1999.
9 “Harvard Practices What it Teaches,” Milliken Carpet News, press release, January 2000.
10 “Carpet,” The Environmentally Preferable Purchasing Guide, Minnesota Office of Environmental Assistance, December 2000, http://www.swmcb.org/EPPG/10_7.asp).
11 See http://www.carpetcycle.com/.
12 E.A. Duffy and H.L. Sheehan, “From Carpets to Cars: Recovering Nylon 6,” paper presented at the “Take It Back” conference, May 13-14, 1999, 8.
13 Fishbein, “Carpet Take-Back: EPR American Style,” 31, https://informinc.org/carpettakeback.php. Also see, “Solenium — the First Resilient Textile Flooring,” Enviromental Building News, May 1999, http://www.buildinggreen.com/products/solenium.html.
14 Personal communication, Christine Warnock, State Procurement Officer, General Administration, Office of State Procurement, State of Washington, February 27, 2001.
15 “Procurement Bulletin #23: Carpet and Carpet Recycling,” King County Environmental Purchasing Program, November 10, 1998, http://www.metrokc.gov/procure/green/bul23.htm, 1.
16 “Carpeting and Vinyl/Rubber Flooring,#C-432(5),” Minnesota Department of Administration, Materials Management Division, Spring 2000.
17 Bette K. Fishbein et al., Extended Producer Responsibility: A Materials Policy for the 21st Century, INFORM, Inc., 2000, 79, https://informinc.org/eprpolicy.php.
18 Memorandum of Understanding Between the Carpet Industry and the Midwestern Workgroup on Carpet Recycling, January 8, 2001, http://www.moea.state.mn.us/carpet/workgroup/010108mou.pdf
20 Memorandum of Understanding for Carpet Stewardship, January 2002, http://www.carpetrecovery.org/about/mou.asp
21 “Interface Introduces Biodegradable Carpet Product,” TextileWeb, June 13, 2000, http://www.interfaceinc.com/us/company/media/in_news.asp.
22 See http://www.niehs.nih.gov/external/faq/carpet.htm.