Waste carpet has only recently emerged as a viable raw material that can be recycled or reused in a variety of ways, such as new flooring products, construction products, energy generation or even for the extraction of oil.
Around 400,000 tonnes of waste carpet arises annually in the UK, comprising end-of-life carpets, post-production waste and post-installation offcuts. Waste carpet also makes up 15% of bulky residual waste at civic amenity (CA) sites.
Carpet Recycling UK (CRUK) is the industry body formed in 2008 to make more of waste carpet materials. Since then, investment in solutions for such waste has taken the UK’s carpet recycling rate from 1.5% in 2008 to 16.5% in 2011.
Our aim is to hit 25% by 2015. It is a bold target, but one that CRUK strongly believes is achievable, thanks to the concerted efforts across the supply chain and collabor-ation between retailers, manufacturers, material suppliers and distributors and recyclers. These are delivering some exciting breakthroughs in new markets and industries.
With 83.5% of waste carpet still ending up in landfill, there is still some way to go. Councils, in particular, can make a big difference and help to increase recycling rates by providing the right facilities at CA sites.
Installing separate containers specifically to collect carpet from householders would ensure it is kept separate from other waste and can be recycled more easily. Around 32 outlets around the UK now accept waste carpet for energy recovery, recycling and reuse, enabling councils to find an alternative to landfill.
Carpet recycling is still very much in its infancy, so putting a precise value on carpet waste is arguably quite difficult. It is not yet regarded as a commodity, unlike established recyclable materials such as plastics, glass or paper that are more widely traded.
Various factors affect the outcomes of processing techniques, such as the type and condition of the waste (old post-consumer carpets versus clean post-installation offcuts) and material type.
Capturing cleaner carpet waste is a priority to provide quality feedstock for the newly developing outlets such as felts for underlay, acoustic suppression and in horticulture.
The intrinsic value of carpet waste lies in diverting it from landfill, thereby reducing costs of its disposal and environmental impact, to give this discarded material a second life. Even burning it for power is better than burial. Of the 65,700 tonnes diverted from landfill in 2011, 49.5% was recycled and 50.5% was fed into energy from waste (EfW) schemes.
While incineration to generate EfW is a valid reuse for waste carpet that would otherwise be landfilled, CRUK’s philosophy is to try to recycle as much of the material as possible.
Examples of the entrepren-eurial spirit that is helping to drive carpet recycling were highlighted at this year’s CRUK’s annual conference. Without the inspiration and significant investment provided by such innovators, carpet recycling would not be where it is today.
Leading carpet recyclers in Austria, Italy, Germany, the US and the UK, outlined new developments, which included a notable increase in higher grade and higher value reuse and recycling options.
Dr Laszlo Kondor, managing director of Austria-based Kemia Handels, highlighted two Hungarian plants that use a thermo-catalytic conversion process to produce up to 6,500 tonnes of heavy oil a year from mixed plastic and rubber wastes. A trial using 500kg of synthetic carpet waste, mainly polypropylene, showed this process could be successful using only carpet waste.
Generating electricity from carpet waste was another interesting outlet development introduced by John Chalfin and Mark Homer of Worldwide Recycling Equipment. Their modular system is capable of generating 1MW/hour from 25 tonnes of carpet waste per day - enough to power around 1,000 homes.
At the other end of the scale, using recycled content in new flooring products to minimise their environmental impact was discussed by Danish carpet manufacturer Egetaepper, which has embraced the ‘cradle to cradle’ design concept.
Finally, in a fitting end to RWM 2012, some 20,000sq m of carpet from this major event will be reprocessed into new construction products, such as scaffold boards and acoustic barriers, thanks to the efforts of CRUK and its partners Melville Exhibition and Event Services, Tilon Composites and Green Venture UK.
Laurance Bird, director of Carpet Recycling UK