The Problem: Volume, Waste, Emissions
Carpet is bulky, heavy, difficult to handle, and made from non-renewable resources. It is recyclable but it is more often disposed, taking up valuable landfill space and wasting material resources. In 2010, only 2% of discarded carpet was recycled in Washington and Oregon. Recycling carpet significantly reduces greenhouse gas emissions compared to other end of life management practices.
Volumes: Approximately 3 million tons of carpet and rugs are disposed of annually, representing about 1.2% of the national municipal solid waste stream. In Washington and Oregon, carpet comprises about 3% of the municipal solid waste stream. The most recent data for the recycling rate of carpet is 2.3% in Washington in 2010 (up from less than 2% in 2009), about 2% in Oregon in 2010 (up from less than 1% in 2009), and 4.5% nation-wide in 2010.
Wasted Resources: Carpet, made from valuable petroleum-based resources, is wasted when landfilled or incinerated. Carpet can be recycled into a wide range of products, including carpet fiber and backing, engineered products such as car and electronics parts, and erosion control products. Carpet recycling is a job creator - enactment of California’s new carpet stewardship bill added an initial 50 jobs to the state’s economy and increased the number of facilities recycling carpet from four to 18.
Greenhouse Gas Emissions: The majority of carpet is made from petroleum products and requires a great deal of energy to produce. A Seattle study on the environmental impacts various carpet management methods found that recycling carpet produced far less green house gases than other end-of-life choices, reducing emissions by 8,300 pounds of eCO2 per ton of carpet recycled. Each ton of used carpet recycled could be shipped more than 40,000 miles by truck (more than ten times the distance across the US) before recycling would lose its position as the best management option for discarded carpet.
Product Stewardship Solutions
Product stewardship solutions include activities that carpet manufacturers as well as retailers, governments and consumers can take to minimize the environmental impact of carpet throughout all stages of the products' life cycle, including end of life management.
Legislation: Product stewardship legislation was adopted in California and was recently introduced, but did not pass, in Washington and New York states. The bills require producers of carpet to finance and provide a statewide program to take back unwanted carpet from consumers. The manufacturer, via a stewardship organization, is responsible for meeting specific performance goals such as providing convenient, accessible collection locations throughout the state. Local and state governments help to publicize the program while retailers and consumers take an active role in ensuring that their unwanted carpet is properly recycled.