Challenges that can't be brushed under the carpet

Written by: Laurance Bird | Published:

Significant progress has been made in recycling carpet waste in the UK, and manufacturers, retailers and recyclers alike are working to improve rates, but some issues – such as segregating the waste, encouraging reuse and more sustainable design – still need to be addressed, writes Laurance Bird, director of Carpet Recycling UK

Every year, 400,000 tonnes of carpet is disposed of in the UK. In less than a decade, carpet recycling has grown from just 2% of the used volume arising in 2007 to around 127,000 tonnes, or 31%, in 2015.

Recognising the importance of tackling this significant waste stream, leading UK carpet manufacturers backed the launch of their own voluntary producers’ responsibility scheme to find new uses for waste carpet and divert it from landfill.

Since 2008, Carpet Recycling UK has played a pivotal role in developing new reuse and recycling opportunities for waste carpet, which contains recyclable textiles such as synthetic fibres and wool fibres, as well as bitumen. There are currently 19 outlets for used carpets in the UK including reuse organisations, recyclers and fuel flock specialists for energy recovery.

The carpet recycling industry faces a number of challenges; notably collecting and segregating carpet waste to keep carpet out of the general waste stream in order to optimise its potential at end of life. Working within the waste hierarchy, the next challenge is reuse where possible, then recycling and finally energy recovery, thereby avoiding landfill.

Recovering raw material resources from this difficult and bulky waste stream makes sound economic and environmental sense. Legislative changes, scarcity of landfill sites and pressure to find alternative sustainable disposal outlets are forcing a rethink in the way we dispose of waste materials such as carpet.

Increasingly local authorities, contractors and retailers are able to find outlets for their carpets in reuse, recycling or energy recovery; and in many cases even saving money on disposal costs.

Thanks to entrepreneurial investment and innovation, clever solutions have been found for clean manufacturing waste and post-installation offcuts that are used to manufacture felts for flooring, horticulture and the geo-textile, automotive and acoustic industries.

Retailers offering takeback schemes have helped to increase collections of waste carpet.

Around 20% of councils segregate carpets at HWRCs and are addresssing challenges such as space limitations, water damage and logistics. Guidance for local authorities has shown the potential to further increase the recycling of carpets at HWRCs, with the added benefits of helping them to meet their municipal recycling targets and reduce landfill costs.

Looking to the future, finding more outlets for carpet, including higher-value routes for post-consumer materials, remains a priority. New technologies and inventive approaches to technical recycling solutions will be vital to achieving a challenging landfill diversion target of 60% by 2020.

‘Design for recycling’ is another key focus. Encouraging the design of new sustainable products that can be more easily recycled at end of life is important if we are to recover more of these materials for future reuse and thereby create a circular economy for carpet.

www.carpetrecyclinguk.com

Fact file: Carpet recycling

  • Every year, 400,000 tonnes of carpet is disposed of in the UK
  • In less than a decade, carpet recycling has grown from just 2% of the used volume arising in 2007 to around 127,000 tonnes, or 31%, in 2015
  • Landfill diversion target of 60% by 2020
  • Around 20% of councils segregate carpets at HWRCs, yet guidance has shown the potential to increase carpet recycling
  • There are currently 19 outlets for used carpets in the UK including reuse organisations, recyclers and fuel flock specialists for energy recovery


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