Facilitating Carpet Reuse and Recycling in the US

28th January 2019

We have developed a toolkit for Changing Markets Foundation which outlines measures that US state governments and manufacturers can implement to improve carpet reuse and recycling.

Today only 5% of carpet in the US is recycled, with 90% going to landfill. Carpet is largely made of plastic from fossil fuels and also contains a wide range of chemicals, used as adhesives and stain protectants, that can be toxic to human health – whether by affecting indoor air quality in homes or leaching into drinking water supplies.

Our report, ‘Carpet Stewardship Toolkit: Accelerating Carpet Circularity in the USA‘, outlines policy options for states to improve carpet recycling and reuse rates. Our policy team recommended that state governments and manufacturers should implement effective extended producer responsibility (EPR) programs, which are designed to ensure that producers take responsibility for the costs created by their products after consumers have finished using them.

Carpet Reuse

California – leading the way

An element of our report focuses specifically on California, the state that both purchases and disposes of the greatest amount of carpet. In 2010, the state passed the world’s first carpet recycling law which was updated in 2017  to include a mandatory carpet recycling rate of 24% by 2020. Our toolkit describes how lawmakers can strengthen the California Stewardship Program, which will become a critical component in the state’s longstanding effort to address its affordable housing crisis through new construction and building renovation.

“Thanks  to the new research and information contained in the Eunomia report, we have a baseline on what states can do to significantly improve carpet recycling programs.  The toolkit aligns with California’s goals to reduce waste, increase local markets, drive a circular economy and address climate change,” said Heidi Sanborn, Executive Director of National Stewardship Action Council

Beyond California, the report and provides a blueprint for other states to implement their own producer responsibility programs for carpet, outlining the principles necessary for any U.S. carpet stewardship plan to succeed as part of the circular economy. These include creating incentives for “eco-design” – thoughtfully designed products that are more easily reusable and recyclable, without toxic chemicals or components that may go in landfills or be incinerated; increasing carpet reuse and recycling rates; and shifting the burden of disposal and recycling away from taxpayers and municipalities to producers.

Mark Hilton, author of the report and our Head of Sustainable Business, said:

“Carpet is a traditional product that is difficult to recycle and rarely reused. Some of the most forward-thinking manufacturers in the US and Europe are now tackling the design challenges and already making carpets with far fewer harmful chemicals, and using designs and business models that aid reuse and recycling. The policy makers are lagging behind, however, and this toolkit aims to provide a template that will progressively drive best practice into the mainstream at the state level.”

Heidi Sanborn said:

“We’ve known for years that carpets produced in the United States create major problems for families and communities while they are in homes and after they are thrown away. It’s time for policymakers to require carpet manufacturers to help solve the crisis created by their products.”

Photo courtesy of Les Stone.