In 2012, more than 3.5 billion pounds of old carpet was discarded in the United States. This amount, estimated by the Carpet America Recovery Effort (CARE) in its 2012 annual report, is enough to cover more than 270 square miles. That’s almost 85 percent of the land area in Kansas City, Mo.
While many of the components that make up carpet are recyclable, most old carpet is currently sent to landfills. According to CARE, 8 percent, or 294 million pounds, of discarded carpet was recycled in 2012. Another 2 percent was burned for energy recovery or used as an alternative fuel.
Locally, there are a few options for recycling carpet. Lee’s Summit recently started a pilot program to set aside carpet for recycling, and some carpet installers will take your old carpet to be recycled after they’ve installed your new carpet.
What currently happens to this carpet? Heritage Recycling operates a carpet processing facility here in Kansas City. Used carpet and carpet padding are delivered to the facility and processing begins with plant employees removing contaminants, such as tack strips and trash. Employees then test and sort the carpet using a hand-held analyzer to distinguish one fiber type from another and separate the types that can be recycled — nylon 6, nylon 6.6, polypropylene and polyester. Other carpet types, as well as wet carpet, are set aside for disposal. Carpet padding is recycled separately from carpet.
The selected carpet passes through a series of mechanical shredders, which systematically break apart the carpet into its fibers and a powdery mix of latex adhesive and limestone filler. Magnets are used to remove metallic items that might be embedded in the carpet, such as nails and box cutter blades. The fibers are baled by type and taken to a processor where they are transformed into pellets. The pellets are ultimately sold to plastic companies that reuse the fiber to create new plastic products.
Learn more about the transformation of discarded carpet in this video about the Heritage Recycling processing plant, produced by Deffenbaugh Industries.
Interested in recycling your old carpet? Unfortunately, Heritage Recycling does not accept carpet directly from the public. Before you buy new carpet, ask the retailer what their installer will do with your old carpet and choose a company that recycles. If you are a do-it-yourself installer, you can recycle old carpet at the drop-off area at the Lee’s Summit Resource Recovery Park for a nominal fee ($10 per cubic yard, at the time this post was published).