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How is carpet made?

What to Do With Old Carpet
Recycling this old carpet and padding is expensive but more sustainable than tossing it in the dump.
Recycling this old carpet and padding is expensive but more sustainable than tossing it in the dump.
Stephanie Howard/iStockphoto

By now, you've surely figured out that carpet isn't just some roll of textile that's spit out of a machine. There are several components to it -- backing, fibers and, once installed, padding. Most, if not all, of these parts are made of different substances. Carpet fibers are most often synthetic. They're usually made of polypropylene, polyester or nylon, but they're sometimes made of natural fibers like wool or cotton. The backing that fibers are woven into is most commonly woven PVC or latex. Carpet padding is usually made of foam rubber.

Unfortunately, a whole length of used carpeting couldn't be recycled because each component's ingredients would taint the others. The good news is all of these disparate components can be broken down into their respective parts so they can be recycled. The bad news is that carpet recycling in its current form is expensive and carpet recycling centers can be hard to find.

The expense of recycling carpet is found largely in the time it takes to break carpet down into its raw materials. Currently, it costs anywhere from five to 25 cents per pound to do so [source: CARE]. Anyone who's ever lifted a roll of carpeting knows that costs can add up quickly when it comes to recycling carpet.

Still, it's a lot more sustainable to recycle old carpet than to simply toss it in the landfill. The Carpet America Recovery Effort (CARE) suggests that anyone looking to recycle carpet should contact a carpet dealer. CARE wants to ensure that as much as 40 percent of old carpeting is recycled by 2012. Sure, it will cost consumers some coin, but the carpet will end up in myriad other products like manufactured stone, auto parts and roof shingles. Who knows? A house being totally renovated may end up with new carpet on its floors and recycled carpet on its roof.