More than 4.7 billion pounds of carpets and rugs are sent to landfills each year in the United States alone, according to the Carpet and Rug Institute. That’s a whopping 1 percent of the waste stream, by weight, and the nylon, polyester, chemicals and other materials don’t decompose easily.
There’s good news, however. While most carpet manufacturers have yet to move natural fibers into the mainstream, they are moving synthetics out of the waste stream. Industry reps and government agencies have agreed to a voluntary initiative, the Carpet America Recovery Effort (CARE), which aims to divert one-fourth to one-third of waste carpet into recycling or reuse by 2012—a huge increase from the current figure of 4 percent.
Entrepreneurs are finding ways to make the reclamation profitable. Used carpet fibers are being recycled into new carpet, padding, and backing; they’re also going into resin for car parts, railroad ties, and even reusable “straw bales” on construction sites.
Finding a used carpet collection site isn’t easy. Manufacturers such as Shaw and InterfaceFLOR are providing or even guaranteeing recovery of their products. Check with your local household hazardous waste specialist, sanitation department or recycler. Or visit the CARE website for other leads.