Sustainability

Rolling out the green carpet

No longer to be swept under the carpet, niche streams like, well, carpets, are starting to receive attention from the recycling industry. As recycling  hits an all-time high, Lily Buckmaster takes a closer look at the end-of-life options for floor coverings

A quick search on the internet about carpet lifespan will heave up any number of self-help sites, telling the average carpet consumer to start afresh every 5-10 years. This advice, along with the never-ending cycle of commercial rebranding, has contributed to the piles of abandoned carpets that now make up at least two per cent of yearly landfill waste.

Carpet waste going to landfill is estimated to be at 400,000 tonnes each year, and this comparatively small figure (compare it to the 7.2 million tonnes of food and drink waste households alone throw out each year, for example) means carpet is considered a niche waste stream. Yet despite this, the organisation Carpet Recycling UK (CRUK) has made it its mission to reduce carpet as landfill waste. The organisation’s target is to divert 25 per cent of carpet waste from landfill by 2015, and figures so far are certainly encouraging: the amount of carpet waste diverted from landfill has risen from two per cent at the birth of the organisation in 2008 to 10 per cent in 2010 and 16.5 per cent in 2011.

Carpet

There are three main options for carpet waste diverted from landfill, which currently stands at 66,000 tonnes per annum. Jane Gardner, Manager of CRUK, explains that “due to the high calorific value of carpet shreddings, they can be used as a fuel flock replacement in cement kilns”, and so 50 per cent, or roughly 34,000 tonnes, is sent for energy recovery. The remaining 32,000 tonnes are divided between reuse and recycling, options that are both increasingly popular and more environmentally sound.

Carpet tiles are the likeliest candidates for reuse as they are separate units, which facilitate quick sorting and grading. Tiles that are deemed reusable (the majority, as carpet tends to be disposed of for aesthetic reasons rather than due to lack of durability), are then cleaned and sold on to charitable organisations or
low-income households at a lower price than a manufacturer could offer. Gardner notes that the carpet manufacturing industry has seen a move in recent years to develop carpet tiles that don’t require any adhesives, which means that more tiles are of a suitable grade to be reused.