One of the biggest challenges facing the flooring industry is dealing with PET (Polyethylene Terephthalate) carpet that has little or no value as a recycled material. Without subsidies to offset the cost of collection, recyclers can’t afford to handle PET carpet.
The Carpet America Recovery Effort (CARE) was set up to minimize the amount of carpet that ends up in landfills. The result in the last few years is 328 million pounds of carpet was diverted from landfills in 2018, with 394 million pounds saved from landfill in 2017 and 488 million pounds in 2016.
Figures from California show the collection rate is decreasing, but despite this, the recycling rate is increasing. In 2016 the recycling rate was 11%; in 2017, the rate rose to 14%, and then to 15.4% in 2018.
Despite the increase in the recycling rate, PET is still the biggest strain on the carpet recycling industry. With limited demand for post-consumer recycled PET carpet, and a decrease in the number of recyclers adding to the issue.
Investments are being made into new technologies by big chemical companies like Eastman, Arropol and Loop in depolymerization technology, which has the potential to make PET a viable resource, but to date, it is not enough to offset all the polyester that is going into landfills. More needs to be done to meet the CalRecycle recycle rate for CARE of 24% by January 2020.
The polyol from recycled PET carpet can be used in polyurethane foam, artificial turf backing, hard surface underlayment, and synthetic plywood.
Other companies throughout America are also working on developing technology and uses for recycled PET carpet, using the material for products such as carpet backing, air filters, and thermal barrier mats.