Before 2008, no-one seemed to give a thought to what happened to waste carpet. For uplifted old carpet, fitting off-cuts or post-production waste, landfill was seen as the ultimate destination for this bulky and awkward waste stream.
Seven years ago, this all changed with the formation of Carpet Recycling UK (CRUK) by leading UK carpet manufacturers and retailers. The aim was to develop viable solutions to the 400,000 tonnes of waste carpet that arise each year in the UK (see box below). Their vision and commitment to the cause has changed the perception of a largely ignored waste stream into a raw material resource that can be reused or recycled in a variety of innovative applications.
A major benefit for CRUK members is a reduction in disposal costs to landfill, as well as the ability to enhance their green credentials with customers. Demonstrating to consumers that their carpet offcuts can be given a second life in a new product, such as underlay, helps to increase positive perceptions among the general public, increase loyalty and win new business.
Retailers are keen to reduce their waste carpet disposal costs but, increasingly, they are also becoming aware of the importance of green credentials. CRUK has seen evidence of this in its data showing a 51% increase in enquiries from retailers and flooring contractors in the first six months of this year, 325 compared with 214 for the same period in 2014. There has been a significant, and welcome, increase in interest from retailers. In 2015, 64% of the enquiries received have been from retailers.
So how is the organisation doing? Its achievements include increased diversion of carpet waste from 3% in 2008 to 28% in 2014, a record-breaking 113,000 tonnes that were reused, recycled or recovered for energy. The initial goal set in 2008 was to achieve 25% diversion by 2015, so that has already been exceeded.
Energy recovery was 73,000 tonnes (65%) of the total diversion and reuse/recycling was 40,000 tonnes (35%). The increase in energy recovery follows the general UK trend for municipal solid waste incineration as capacity increases, plus continued strong demand from the cement industry for the benefits of carpet in solid recovered fuel, particularly chalk content.
Recycling growth has been particularly strong in segments such as fibre recovery for felts, as retailers and flooring contractors realise the benefits of capturing fitting offcuts for recycling. More than 1.2 million carpet tiles were collected and diverted from landfill in 2014 to reuse, particularly by third sector and community organisations; recycling; or energy recovery.
The number of alternative outlets has grown, with specialist recyclers such as CRUK member Anglo Recycling developing a thriving business reprocessing post-industrial carpet waste, including offcuts. At its manufacturing site in Whitworth, Rochdale, the company has developed innovative processes for both 80% wool-rich and polypropylene carpet materials to produce products for applications in the flooring, construction, civil engineering and horticultural sectors.
Another great example is CRUK member Greenstream Flooring CIC, a social enterprise that specialises in carpet tile reuse. This was a winner at the 2014 National Recycling Awards, organised by MRW, and was also the CRUK’s Reuse Member of the Year 2015. Greenstream supplies and fits all types of flooring, and promotes heavily the use of its reclaimed carpet tiles over new or alternative flooring. Tiles are reclaimed from offices nationwide via its recycling service, sorted according to condition, and then sold at low cost to low-income households and small or medium-sized businesses.
Carpet tile reuse is expected to increase as initiatives such as the WRAP Carpet Recycling Guide, produced by CRUK, raises awareness among facilities management professionals to the benefits of reuse and recycling.
This practical interactive guide was published last Decemb e r to encourage more reuse and recycling of used carpet arising from all types of refurbishment schemes. It also covers best practice for extending carpet lifetime and for refurbishment specification, as well as environmental considerations for specifying carpet.
The guide is aimed at facilities managers in the public and private sectors, procurers, architects and specifiers, housing associations and floor layers to assist them with the type of carpet waste that is most likely to arise in refurbishment projects.
Looking to the future, CRUK will continue to grow while providing a voluntary producer responsibility positioning for the industry. Currently, there is no indication of a compulsory scheme, but we are awaiting European Commission proposals and further circular economy (CE) guidance which is expected in the autumn. Whatever is decided, the organisation is providing a framework for that eventuality.
Innovative design and how carpet manufacturers could realign their products along CE principles is an area of focus. At a workshop we organised for CRUK’s steering committee members, participants were invited to think about how they could improve their products’ sustainability across the entire supply chain taking into account design, composition, materials and longevity.
Opportunities abound as we work towards our next target of 60% landfill diversion by 2020. These include closer working with local authorities which need to increase recycling rates to meet EU mandatory goals; ever-increasing disposal costs via skips; further landfill site closures; and reduced capacity.
Tens of thousands of tonnes of carpet waste is still landfilled each year – we cannot afford to ignore waste on this scale.
What is CRUK?
CRUK is the industry-backed association for recycling and reusing waste carpet that is helping all types of organisations to find alternative and sustainable disposal outlets for their waste, with growing success year on year.
Thanks to the funding and commitment from its core carpet manufacturing members that actively support the development of carpet recycling and reuse – Cormar Carpets, Lifestyle Floors, Desso, Ege, Milliken, Balsan, Marlings and Vorwerk – CRUK continues to go from strength to strength.
By helping flooring retailers, contractors and fitters to recycle or reuse their installation offcuts, uplifted carpets and carpet tiles, the organisation is acting as a catalyst for sustainable change within the flooring industry and the wider recycling sectors. Essentially, it is providing a voluntary producer responsibility positioning for the industry.
In addition to the core funders, a number of other companies contribute to CRUK and help to spread awareness of its work, in turn encouraging more to join and share in the economic and environmental benefits of turning a waste resource into new products or energy generation.
Laurance Bird is director of Carpet Recycling UK