Along with the many benefits of carpet come a number of environmental considerations—including issues of material use, production wastes, indoor air quality, and ultimately, carpet disposal. According to carpet industry estimates, approximately 4.7 billion pounds of carpet were discarded in the United States in 2002; most years, carpet accounts for over 1 percent of all municipal solid waste by weight, or about 2 percent by volume. The bulky nature of carpet and the variety of materials used in its manufacture often create handling, collection, and recycling problems for local and state governments.
According to industry estimates, only 3.8 percent of total carpet discards were recycled in the United States in 2002. Barriers to effective recycling of carpet include the lack of an established infrastructure for collection and processing of discarded carpet, especially from residential sources. In addition, carpet manufacturers and recyclers have been concentrated in the southeastern United States, resulting in logistical issues for carpet recycling in other parts of the country. Inadequate markets for some resins, such as nylon 6,6, are a concern as well.
The carpet industry has been increasingly involved in developing solutions to these issues. In January 2002, carpet and fiber manufacturers signed the National Carpet Recycling Agreement, along with the Carpet and Rug Institute, state governments, non-governmental organizations, and the U.S. EPA. This agreement established a 10-year schedule to increase the amount of recycling and reuse of post-consumer carpet and reduce the amount of waste carpet going to landfills. The goals are:
- Reuse: 3 to 5 percent, or at least 200 million to 340 million pounds annually by 2012.
- Recycling: 20 to 25 percent, or at least 1.4 billion to 1.7 billion pounds annually by 2012.
- Cement kilns: (use of recovered carpet as an alternative fuel source and as an additive in cement production): 3 percent, or 200 million pounds annually by 2012.
- Waste-to-energy: 1 percent, or 67 million pounds annually by 2012.
The agreement also created a third-party organization, the Carpet America Recovery Effort (CARE) , to reach these goals. CARE’s mission is to develop market-based solutions for the recycling and reuse of post-consumer carpet.