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Can I recycle my carpet?

The Carpet Recycling Challenge
Recycled carpet fibers can be used to make new carpet yarns.
Recycled carpet fibers can be used to make new carpet yarns.

In 2002, a group of carpet manufacturers, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and government agencies signed the Memorandum of Understanding for Carpet Stewardship (MOU). The MOU pledged to divert 40 percent of the amount of postconsumer carpet that ends up in landfills by 2012. Millions of pounds of carpet would instead be recycled and made into new carpet and a host of other products.

But consumers can't recycle carpet with the same ease as bottles, cans and newspapers. For that reason, the 2002 MOU established the Carpet America Recovery Effort (CARE) to accommodate carpet recycling for individuals and businesses. CARE offers information on 60 carpet recovery centers dotted around the United States that can pick up and haul away old carpeting to be recycled. However, many states, especially in the Midwest, have no such facilities.

Since carpet recycling facilities are few and far between in certain locations, people looking to dispose of old carpet without making a trip to the landfill may have to get a little more creative. Nonprofit groups specializing in housing, such as Habitat for Humanity, may accept used carpet and carpet scraps. Some multipurpose recycling centers may also allow it.

And just like dumping at a landfill, recycling carpet isn't free. According to CARE, the fees will usually work out to between 5 and 25 cents per pound. Shaw Industries can save customers that added cost if they purchase its EcoWorx line made with recycled materials. It comes with a green guarantee that the Shaw will pick your old EcoWorx carpet and then recycle at their factories.

Though the price may be a deterrent for some, the extensive processing of postconsumer carpet explains why you have to pay. For example, at the Georgia carpet factories of Interface Americas, old carpet is first brought in, scanned for its polymer content (i.e. nylon or polypropylene) and separated accordingly [source: Discovery Channel]. The fluffy top fibers of the carpets are shaved off to be rewoven as recycled yarn. The rest of the nylon content will be sent out to other companies for use as nylon plastic for automotive parts, shingles and landscaping products [source: CARE]. This recycling procedure, which earned an Energy Globe award in 2008, can extract 9 million pounds (4 million kilograms) of nylon from 30 million pounds (13 million kilograms) of carpet [source: Fischler].

But without the effort of consumers to recycle their carpet in the first place, cradle-to-cradle carpeting might lead to a dead end. Fortunately, it'll probably become easier and cheaper to recycle carpet as demand for carpet recycling facilities and services grows.