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Taking waste carpet to new levels

The outlook for recycling waste carpet and diverting greater volumes of this awkward waste stream from rapidly-dwindling landfill sites is looking positive as we head into 2013.

In the five years since Carpet Recycling UK was formed to tackle around 400,000 tonnes of waste carpet arising annually in the UK, there has been a substantial and welcome shift in the way we view this material.

From new flooring and construction products to energy generation, waste carpet is increasingly viewed as a resource that can be recycled or reused in a variety of inventive ways.

While there is still some way to go, our achievements in 2012 are testament to the sustained efforts across the entire supply chain to capture rising waste tonnages, along with an entrepreneurial commitment to developing new outlets and markets for all types of carpet waste.

In 2012, 85,000 tonnes of waste carpet were diverted from landfill, representing an increase from 16.5% in 2011 to 21.4% last year. The recycled and reused portion was 36,000 tonnes, while 49,000 tonnes was sent for energy recovery via cement kilns and power generation.

Energy recovery grew by 44% or 15,000 tonnes as the high calorific value of carpets became more widely exploited. The amount of waste carpet recycled grew in 2012 by 12.5% or 4,000 tonnes as new outlets have developed and established ones have grown.

Last year also saw record levels of carpet production offcuts - more than 6,000 tonnes - diverted from landfill by UK-based members of Carpet Recycling UK. These manufacturers prevented 6,049 tonnes of offcuts from the production process going into the ground, representing a diversion rate of 99% in 2012. Recycling was by far the majority outlet at 5,241 tonnes, with only 808 tonnes used for energy recovery.

New recycling opportunities continue to crop up as growing awareness is matched by practical endeavour.

As demand for clean identified carpet offcuts increased, pilot trials have been introduced to capture the estimated 12,000-15,000 tonnes a year being primarily landfilled from carpet fitting.

These pilots will evaluate the logistical challenges of collecting fitting offcuts from the domestic and commercial sectors through retailers, flooring contractors and distributors.

One example of this is Dewsbury-based DC Waste Management, which has launched a carpet fitting waste collection scheme for local carpet and flooring retailers in Yorkshire. Offcuts are sent to local recyclers, such as Pennine Blending in Huddersfield, where they are made into new products.

Last year also saw recycling capacity increased at specialist facilities able to handle carpets via reuse, recycling and energy recovery. It was encouraging to see new machinery investment, along with growth in the use of fibres from carpets for equestrian surfaces and felts.

Councils will be an important focus for Carpet Recycling UK following its recent research showing the significant contribution that the separation of carpet waste at household waste recycling centres (HWRCs) could make to landfill diversion.

A study of HWRCs nationally found that 10 councils operating across 61 sites are currently using dedicated bins to send carpet waste on for recycling or energy from waste (EfW). These sites are collecting 14,620 tonnes of domestic carpets a year; equivalent to an average of 6.4kg of carpet waste per household per year.

Currently an estimated 78.6% of end-of-life carpet still ends up in landfill and a significant proportion of this passes through HWRCs. This figure of carpet waste per household provides an excellent benchmark to demonstrate to councils what can be achieved by using dedicated carpet bins at HWRCs. This is especially so with the development of new outlets for waste carpet offering alternatives to landfill.

The sector’s goals for 2013 will continue to drive higher carpet recycling rates through a number of initiatives. These include:

  • Increasing the landfill diversion rate to 23.5% (95,000 tonnes) through reuse, recycling and energy recovery, an increase of 10,000 tonnes on 2012.
  • Increasing reuse, recycling and energy recovery outlets, thus improving choice, collection and transport logistics across the UK.
  • Recruit retail and flooring contractor members to help support collection infrastructure growth and improve recyclate value.
  • Increase awareness of carpet recycling opportunities and recycler initiatives across the value chain.

Laurance Bird, Director, Carpet Recycling UK

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