Around five billion pounds of carpet ends up as landfill every year, and less than 5% of all post-consumer carpet is recycled. Whether you’re renovating or demolishing an old property, read on to learn how to recycle carpet!
How to recycle carpet
These days, carpet is recycled into a range of products from new carpet and underlay to insulation, roofing, road surfaces, and even washing machine parts! Here’s how to make sure your old carpet finds new life as one of these products.
Who recycles carpet?
Carpet will not break down in landfill as it’s packed with complex fibers. Furthermore, it’s not the easiest material to recycle because of its multiple components, each with its own chemical composition.
Add to this that carpet is large, heavy, and bulky, meaning that many municipalities are reluctant to pick it up through their recycling program.
However, you can recycle almost every type of carpet, though they need to be handled differently depending on their component materials. Non-profit Carpet America Recovery Effort (CARE) is developing a network of drop off points to make it easier to recycle carpet.
Many flooring companies accept old carpets for recycling, but some do not – it all depends on their internal resources and the infrastructure in the area.
How is carpet recycled?
Most municipalities will accept carpet with your regular trash. However, this is difficult to do in practice, because pieces of carpet are generally too large and heavy to put on the curb in your trash can.
More importantly, when carpet ends up in landfill, it won’t break down for decades or even hundreds of years. Most modern carpets are made from non-biodegradable forms of plastic and often also contain potentially-harmful dyes and glues.
Likewise, most charities won’t accept old carpet as a donation for health reasons. Therefore, the only way to dispose of it responsibly is to recycle it.
Recycling centers turn old carpet into black resin that is then used to make products for the auto, construction, transport, and home and garden industries.
How to recycle carpet and keep it from landfill
Step 1: Assess what type of carpet you have
The first step in figuring out how to recycle carpet is figuring out what type of carpet it is.
Most carpet is made from synthetic fibers such as polyester or acrylic, though there are more sustainable carpets made from natural fibers, namely wool, cotton, or silk.
The easiest way to check is using the “burn test”. Take a small piece of carpet and hold a lighter to it.
Depending on the material, the carpet will react as follows:
- Polyester produces an orange flame that burns rapidly and melts, leaving a hard, shiny black bead.
- Nylon carpet burns with an orange-tipped, blue flame, melting and leaving smooth beads of ash.
- Olefin also gives an orange-tipped, blue flame, that burns rapidly.
- Acrylic will give a white-orange flame that sputters and leaves hard, black, and irregular ash.
- Rayon carpet burns rapidly with an orange flame but leaves no ash.
- Wool has a slow-burning orange flame with no smoke. It doesn’t melt, but leaves black, crumbly ash.
- Cotton burns with an orange or yellow flame and leaves behind irregular, gray ash.
- Silk Has a steady flame and leaves very little to no ash.
Step 2: Use the carpet reclamation map to find a recycling center near you
Simply enter your location into Carpet America Recovery Effort’s collector finder map, and you’ll get info on their closest carpet reclamation partners.
The site shows the name, address, and contact details of each location, and directions. If you can’t find a suitable facility through Carpet America Recovery Effort, you can also check Earth 911’s recycling center finder tool.
Step 3: Take your old carpet to a collection point
Some centers may pick up your old carpet if you live close enough, so it’s worth asking. Otherwise, you’ll need to gather the carpet and drop it off.
Also, be sure to check with the collection point ahead of time if you need to separate the underlay or if you can bring everything in together.
Are all types of carpet recyclable?
It’s important to know what is acceptable and what is not when it comes to how to recycle carpet – as not all types are even recyclable.
Most places that take carpet for recycling also take underlay, though the two are recycled separately. Therefore, it’s important to check with the recycling center or drop off point that they accept both.
Recycling commercial carpet can also be a different prospect, not generally because of the materials but due to the large quantity of carpet involved. Businesses can usually recycle their old carpets but they’ll need to keep transport in mind and make sure to inform the recycling center in advance about the quantity of carpet they want to recycle.
What if I can’t recycle my old carpet?
If you’re dealing with a type of carpet that can’t be recycled or can’t find a collection point in your area, you have some other options.
Here are some ideas for what to do with carpet that can’t be recycled:
- If the carpet is in good condition, you can try to sell it or donate it to a local charity. Animal shelters are always looking for old carpet to keep the animals warm and cozy.
- You can also use old carpet to keep weeds down in your yard or to insulate soil.
- Upcycle the carpet into floor mats for your car or an anti-frost cover for your windshield.
- Use it to make a variety of home decor items, such as doormats, rugs, coasters, or cat scratch posts.
Final thoughts on how to recycle carpet
Even the bulkiest and heaviest of items like carpet can be recycled with a bit of effort and know-how. Thanks to schemes like Carpet America Recovery Effort there are plenty of collection points that accept old carpet for recycling.
If you can’t find a collection point near you, you can also donate, reuse, or upcycle your carpet to avoid it ending up in landfill.
If you found this guide to how to recycle carpet useful, go ahead and share it with your eco-conscious friends!