There is tremendous opportunity to increase the recyclability of carpet. However, its composite construction makes recycling technically and financially challenging. According to the Carpet America Recovery Effort 2017 Annual Report, most carpet components are recyclable, yet only 5% of post-consumer carpet gets processed this way.
Although carpet recycling rates have slightly increased over the years, a shift is needed to a circular economy where carpet materials are continuously recovered and reused. By identifying industry opportunities and developing circular solutions, we can meet meaningful goals, increase the recyclability of carpet, and keep these materials out of landfills.
The State of Carpet Recycling
Carpet is normally constructed as a composite of dissimilar materials, the most valuable of which is the face yarn typically made from polyester, nylon, polypropylene, or wool. The other major component is the backing system. Typically consisting of polypropylene or polyester, the primary backing through which the yarn is tufted, is laminated to a secondary backing with a polymeric binder system consisting of latex, polyurethane, or thermoplastic hot melt adhesives along with various fillers and other additives.
With multiple unique components that must be handled individually, it’s clear why carpet recycling is so challenging. Every step in the identification, separation, and reprocessing sequence adds cost and complexity to the recycling process but is necessary to restore and reuse its value.
Circular Solutions for Carpet Textiles
Carpet aesthetics are determined primarily by the face yarn (color, design, and construction); whereas its functional performance is significantly impacted by its binder system, which holds the carpet composite together. As the largest supplier of binders in the global carpet market, we provide solutions that enhance these performance properties by delivering excellent binding strength, durability, and dimensional stability with low VOCs.
The first step in recycling carpet is identification and separation of its components. Many industry suppliers mechanically separate carpet composites to reclaim face fibers. More recently, depolymerization has grown in popularity. It’s been successfully used to recycle Nylon 6 and is an efficient way to convert a recycled polymer back into its monomer form, which can be repolymerized thus restoring its original value.
Advancing Carpet Recycling through CARE
In 2020, Trinseo joined the Carpet America Recovery Effort (CARE), a joint industry-government non-profit focused on developing market-based solutions for recovering value from discarded carpet. CARE and other industry-driven efforts have made great strides to increase landfill diversion and recycling of post-consumer carpet; however, it has not been without its challenges.
Some subsidies have been established through extended producer responsibility frameworks to attract and retain people in the business of carpet collection, sorting, and reprocessing. Additional incentives or breakthrough technologies will be needed in the future to make carpet recycling more economical.
As part of our ongoing sustainability journey, we have partnered with like-minded companies and consortiums including Styrenics Circular Solutions, ETB, and Fernholz to develop circular solutions that benefit key markets. We’re committed to sharing our expertise with value chain partners to increase the recyclability of carpets and achieve measurable change.