The Carpet Industry’s Big Sustainability Problem

Carpet can quickly become worn and styles outdated, so it makes sense that millions of Americans replace their carpet each year. While homeowners are often excited to install new carpet, few consider where the old carpet goes when they no longer need it. Carpet makes up 3.5 percent of all materials currently present in landfills and cumulatively weighs more than four billion pounds. 

Unfortunately, old carpet is difficult to recycle or for someone else to reuse. These challenges have prompted some environmentalists to call on the carpet industry to create products easier to recycle and that take up less space in America’s landfills.

Health Problems and Other Issues Associated with Carpet in Landfills

Carpet decays extremely slowly, especially when made from oil. Another problem with oil-based carpet is that it eventually leaks into the ground of the landfill where it sits. Once the chemicals get into the ground, they can end up in people’s food and water supply.

Burning unwanted carpet is not a better solution that throwing it away. As the carpet burns, it releases toxic carcinogens into the air that people later breathe. Some of the most common toxic materials that come from burned carpet include dioxin, lead, and mercury. Additionally, setting fire to old carpet causes it to release organic pollutants and endocrine disruptors. 

Breathing in toxic substances interferes with the body’s endocrine system and can cause serious health conditions like cancer, asthma, heart attack, stroke, or chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD).

Solutions to the Growing Problem of Carpet Toxicity

For homeowners concerned about the environment, the most obvious solution is to avoid carpeted floors and opt for hardwood floors instead. However, that isn’t always an option when purchasing a home someone else lived in first. The good news for those who still prefer the floors of their home covered with carpet is that natural-fiber carpets have much less of an environmental impact. Here are some examples of alternative materials used in carpet manufacturing by companies looking to reduce their carbon footprint:

  • Coir
  • Jute
  • Pure wool
  • Seagrass
  • Sisal

Consumers are well within their rights to ask carpet manufacturers about the company’s sustainability practices. That includes questioning whether it’s possible to recycle a certain style of carpeting before committing to purchasing it.

Reusing parts of old carpet for craft projects and other practical home uses is an alternative to throwing old carpet in the garbage. Another idea is to place carpet squares under the legs of tables, couches, and chairs to prevent the furniture from scratching hardwood floors. Scratch pads for cats and cushioning for the knees while gardening are additional creative ideas on what to do with old carpeting.

Several states have passed legislation aimed at reducing carpet waste while individual companies have taken the initiative to create new carpet styles with sustainability in mind. Non-profit organizations such as Carpet America Recovery Efforts (CARE) have also cropped up in response to this growing problem. Everyone wins when individuals, businesses, and government work together to preserve the environment.