Carpet & Carpet Padding - Something to Get Floored About
Carpet is one of those things that most people don't think of as recyclable. In a landfill, the carpet does not decompose. The resources and energy used to make it are entombed in the landfill while virgin petroleum is used to make the new carpet. Options to recycle carpet vary significantly by state or even region, and data for how much carpet goes to landfills can be hard to find or is outdated. In the Seattle, Washington region, the last major study was in 2011. It was commissioned by Seattle Public Utilities, who hired Full Circle Environmental to look into the challenges associated with carpet. At the time, they estimated that over 37,000 tons of carpet went to the landfill each year. But that was nine years ago, and it's a safe guess that this number has grown significantly in the years that followed. Increased apartment units and rental demand also results in more carpet waste as units are turned.
Proposed legislation in Seattle and the surrounding areas to ban carpet from the landfill in 2013 appears to have stalled out. Because landfill is still an option, many people don't even realize that carpet can be recycled. A quick search online shows that the last time any real significant efforts by King County or local government to divert carpet was around the time of the study mentioned above. With so many tons destined for the landfill, it makes it difficult for many recyclers and vendors to spend the money on infrastructure and processing, knowing that the volume that they'd receive is a fraction of the total amount.
Also complicating the issue, the more desirable Nylon 6 and Nylon 66 carpet is becoming harder to find in the waste streams of carpet companies and builders. With Nylon carpet being the higher quality and more superior carpet, it is also the most expensive. Compared to Polyester or PET carpet, it can be two to three times the cost of PET. This results in less of it being purchased and installed, especially in lower-income areas. As landlords and property owners, we are forced to make decisions on cost versus quality. While Nylon is by far the superior product in wear and durability, it doesn't make sense to spend the money if your tenants might end up damaging the carpet beyond repair.
In the Seattle region, we have been fortunate. While the municipalities either have no laws on carpet recycling or do not enforce them, we are close to two major shipping ports and our eco-friendly neighbors to the North in Canada. They have invested in diverting carpet from the landfills by turning it into new products, including more carpet. As a recycling company, we also benefit from the high tip fees of the local landfills. So even though there may not be regulations on carpet diversion, customers often self-educate on other more cost-effective options. Some local recyclers have been able to find outlets to recycle all the various types of carpet and carpet padding. For the carpet that is too dirty or contaminated, shredding it and marketing it to environmental companies specializing in vacuum trucks and liquids has proven useful. Also, decant facilities use it to solidify their waste, such as petroleum contaminated liquids, before their final destination to the landfill. This helps these companies pass the paint filter test required of them, and gives this undesirable carpet one last life.
As landfill tip fees continue to increase, and space at landfills decreases, there will likely be greater demand for the recycling of carpet and padding. Also, there is a push from consumers on companies to be more environmentally conscious and sustainable, and these customers vote with their dollars. These things will lead to new and exciting innovations and better ways to keep these materials out of the landfill.
Ryan Jackman was born and raised in the Seattle region. He first joined RHAWA in 2016 for his duplex. He began working in the construction industry for a home flipping company in 2005. Since then, he has spent most of his career in finance, sales, and marketing. He sold and rented heavy equipment for 5 years before joining the DTG Recycle team in early 2019; and is always happy to help anyone with their questions and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (425) 877-8236. You can visit dtgrecycle.com to learn more about where to take your materials and the services they provide.