Carpets are estimated to account for about five per cent of all material (by weight) taken to household waste recycling centres (HWRCs) in the UK. Every year, over 400,000 tonnes of carpet waste is generated. Almost all Welsh local authorities provide a separate disposal point at HWRCs to capture and divert this from landfill.
Almost 160,000 tonnes of carpet waste was diverted from landfill in the UK in 2019, with over 60,000 tonnes recycled or reused. The remainder goes to energy-from-waste.
The range of material used and types of carpet produced require a mix of different recycling solutions. Approximately 60 per cent of carpets collected at HWRCs are a mix of synthetic materials, typically nylon, polyester and polypropylene; 26 per cent are wool rich; the remaining 14 per cent are nylon and bitumen-based carpet tiles.
The most popular application for recycled synthetic carpets is in surfaces for equestrian centres. To make this, the carpet is shredded and mixed with sand, to create a cushioned flooring that reduces the impact on horses’ legs in training.
The fibres in a wool-rich carpet can be recycled for a variety of uses. By extracting them, then blending with other materials, new heat and sound insulation products are made. Extracted fibre is also used in the creation of new underlay for carpets.
End of life wool-rich carpet is a useful growing medium, such as a grow mat for small plants and green roofs. Due to its high level of nitrogen, this carpet is a sustainable replacement or supplement for peat in these products.
In some cases, rolled or fitted carpet can be reused by cutting it down for smaller spaces. However, most carpet reuse involves carpet tiles as these are more straightforward to recover and grade, as well as apply to a new floor. Offices and other commercial buildings are the main users of carpet tiles, so most carpet reuse schemes typically work with businesses rather than households.