Casting off that old carpet

We just bought a house and will be ripping the carpet out ASAP. I know there must be places that.


We just bought a house and will be ripping the carpet out ASAP. I know there must be places that recycle carpet – I just can’t find any.

As a tyke, I envied people with plush ivory-hued wall-to-wall carpeting. So soft! So squishy! So glamorous and reckless in white! It was the 80s, after all. Hard flooring just didn’t compete.

Of course, we’ve since learned those fluffy fibres trap all kinds of dodgy substances, from sneezy allergens to decades-old pesticides, flame retardants and whatever else has been dragged in on shoes or furnishings.

If you’re a short-term renter or just too cash-strapped to rip out all your carpeting overnight, be sure to vacuum like you’re OCD. Even carpet industry peeps say twice a week is optimal. But if you’re ready to rip the rug out from underfoot right now, finding a place to recycle your rolls can be tough.

In 2002, the carpet biz banded with the U.S. government to kick off CARE (Carpet America Recovery Effort) in an attempt to boost non-existent recycling rates. And, yes, most major carpet companies now have recycling programs south of the border. More and more manufacturers, like Milliken, Shaw and Interface, have figured out how to make old carpet parts into new ones – the ideal scenario.

But most companies downcycle carpeting into stuff like car parts and soundproofing or send it to cement kilns to be burned as a fuel source. Don’t be fooled by pretty language about diverting old carpets through “waste to energy” programs. Incineration makes up nearly 14 per cent of carpet waste diversion, and burning garbage should never be confused with recycling.

Even today, only about 5 per cent of carpeting gets recycled, and a monstrous 2 million tons of it is landfilled every year in North America.

Some new carpet installers will take your old stuff away to recycle it for you. But many will just toss it, since few recycling facilities exist here in Canada, and carpets to be recycled have to be shipped to the U.S. (There are a few depots across Canada that act as holding and sorting centres for carpets on their way to the States.)

Best thing to do is to peel back the carpet and find out who made it. Call the company and say you want to have it recycled. Some will tell you Canadians are out of luck. Others, like Beaulieu, say they’ll help anyone with any brand of carpet arrange a pickup through a local dealer. You may be charged roughly $2.50 per square yard of carpet to do so.

Of course, swapping your carpet for the certified wood, cork, or natural marmoleum (aka linoleum) option is definitely the greenest and healthiest way to go, but for those of you stuck on a new synthetic carpet, be sure to ask about end-of-life recycling policies and recycled content.

Mohawk and Shaw include up to 50 per cent recycled content in some products. Milliken has sent zero waste to landfill from its factories since 1999, and it carries carpeting with as much as 80 per cent refurbished post-consumer nylon, but, annoyingly, it’s not available to residential customers. Sad but true, many carpet companies keep their greenest products and services (including carpet recycling) for the office crowd.

Although polypropylene and polyester (PET) rugs are more environmentally friendly to produce than nylon, they aren’t as durable, and you can’t always recycle them into new carpets when you’re done with them (though that’s starting to change).

At least Mohawk’s EverSTRAND line, made of 100 per cent recycled pop bottles (PET), gives your old cola bottles a second crack at life. In every square yard of its polyester carpet, Quebec-based Beaulieu recycles about 36 2-litre bottles. Plus, its Enviro Select collection is manufactured with hydro and wind energy.

Carpet tiles can be the most sustainable synthetic option, because you need only replace heavily worn squares, not the whole carpet. While most have no recycled content, Interface’s FLOR Fedora carpet tiles are made of low-VOC, 80 per cent post-consumer recycled polyester.

FLOR also has amazing natural modular tiles made of coconut-husk fibres (aka coir), dye-free wool or 35 per cent GMO-free corn-based plastic. As long as you pick the non-vinyl backing option, you’re in the clear.

The most natural option on the block is definitely pure wool carpeting (the kind without carcinogenic moth-proofing naphthalene). To go chem-free, you’ll have to check out earth-friendly home shops like Green Design Studio (greendesignstudio.ca), or head online to naturescarpet.com or earthweave.com.

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