Americans discard approximately 3.9 million tons of carpet and rugs each year. Recycling carpet can significantly reduce greenhouse gas emissions and decrease energy use; yet, despite voluntary industry recycling programs, only about 7.5 percent gets recycled. Much of this bulky, cumbersome waste ends up in landfills and imposes significant costs on local governments for its management.
Today, many carpet manufacturers are producing what they call “environmentally friendly” carpet from recycled PET (the plastic used to make disposable plastic beverage containers). Unfortunately, PET fibers are far more difficult and costly to recycle than traditional nylon fibers. As a result, carpet recycling costs have increased.
Extended producer responsibility (EPR) laws for carpet have the capacity to create an economically and environmentally sustainable infrastructure for managing scrap carpet.
In 2010, California passed the nation’s first carpet producer responsibility law, AB 2398, which put into place a manufacturer-run incentive program operated by the Carpet America Recovery Effort (CARE), a national industry stewardship organization.
Under this law, CARE provides a subsidy to recycling processors for the material they sell to be used in new products. Consumers pay a small assessment (currently $0.10 per square yard) on the purchase of new carpet, which is used by manufacturers to fund program activities. The program is designed to make recycling economically viable in the state. It does not, however, directly pay for the costs to collect, transport, and recycle scrap carpet.
Today, PSI is working with stakeholders across the country to develop and introduce model EPR legislation for carpet. Guided by the Principles of EPR, this legislation incorporates producer responsibility for transportation and recycling costs to promote meaningful increases in carpet recycling and reduce the financial burden on local government.
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Voluntary industry recycling payments also help to increase carpet recycling. In 2014, CARE launched a nationwide temporary Voluntary Product Stewardship Program, designed to provide an alternative to EPR programs. As part of this program, CARE will, for a limited time, provide funds to carpet sorters to increase the volume of post-consumer carpet diverted from disposal. Sorters are not eligible to receive funds if they collect or sort carpet in states or local municipalities that have carpet EPR laws. They are also not allowed to support the development of such legislation.
Other voluntary industry initiatives have had limited success in driving carpet recycling. In 2002, a consortium of carpet and fiber stakeholders, including manufacturers, recyclers, state and local government agencies, non-governmental organizations, and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (USEPA) signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) establishing post-consumer carpet recycling goals and stakeholder roles and responsibilities. The consortium agreed to achieve a landfill diversion rate of 40 percent by 2012, with a 20 to 25-percent recycling rate, and with the carpet industry taking financial responsibility for meeting these goals. Unfortunately, in 2010, CARE reported a national recycling rate of only 4.5 percent. The second round of MOU negotiations ended in 2011, with no agreement on future national goals.
PSI’s Role in Delivering Solutions
Advocates for EPR legislation
Since 2011, PSI has been working with state and local government members to introduce carpet producer responsibility legislation. Through national strategy calls, we have helped states across the country build a platform for carpet stewardship legislation. To further advance legislation, we developed a menu of legislative elements that outlines options that states can take on key aspects of a producer responsibility bill, including performance goals, convenience standards, reporting requirements, and outreach and education. In 2014, PSI worked with Illinois stakeholders to develop and introduce a carpet EPR bill, sparking conversations with CARE to increase recycling rates in the state.
Brings Stakeholders Together
Today, PSI leads a national dialogue for states that are interested in passing carpet producer responsibility laws during the upcoming legislative session. To allow for an exchange of perspectives and cross-state collaboration, we organize and facilitate national carpet stewardship strategy calls with key stakeholders across the country. We also coordinated a series of stakeholder meetings in 2014 to strengthen opportunities for carpet stewardship legislation in the Northeast.
PSI works to inform and shape product stewardship policy. Over the past 15 years, we have researched and compiled data on carpet production, composition, disposal, recycling, and environmental impacts, presented in an early Action Plan and recent Briefing Document. Most recently, we delved into key challenges and potential solutions for managing scrap carpet in our How-To Guide for carpet recovery, which can be used by local and state governments across the country to increase carpet recycling and build capacity for carpet stewardship legislation.
For more information, please contact Sydney Hausman-Cohen at (617) 236-4853.