Americans discard about two million tons of carpet each year. Despite a voluntary carpet industry agreement in 2002 that committed to increase recycling, only 5% of carpet is recycled nationwide.
To this day, it is nearly impossible for most homeowners and businesses to recycle old carpet in a convenient or cost effective way. Recycling has only gotten more expensive as carpet manufacturers have switched from nylon fibers to polyester, decreasing the value of scrap carpet. So, this bulky waste takes up considerable landfill space and is costly for local governments to manage.
Additionally, carpet often releases hazardous substances through typical use. Phthalates, perfluorinated compounds (PFAS), flame retardants, and toxic heavy metals released from carpets are known for carcinogenicity, mutagenicity, reproductive toxicity, and endocrine disruption. Children are particularly vulnerable to these chemicals.
Disposing carpet not only squanders valuable resources and energy, but also represents a missed opportunity to create recycling jobs, make and sell new recycled-content products, and reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
Voluntary industry programs to collect and recycle carpet, like the Carpet America Recovery Effort (CARE), do not provide sustainable funding and have failed to increase carpet recycling beyond 5% despite a 20-year effort. To increase the recycling rate for carpet, we need a better solution.
That’s why PSI advocates for “extended producer responsibility” (EPR) laws. Carpet EPR laws require carpet companies to set up and operate carpet recycling programs. These laws make it easy for homeowners and businesses to recycle carpet, incentivize manufacturers to create less toxic carpet, and relieve governments from the burden of managing unwieldy carpet waste.
However, the carpet industry has staunchly opposed regulatory initiatives to increase carpet recycling for two decades. The Carpet and Rug Institute not only boycotted a PSI-facilitated meeting in Connecticut – they even paid carpet recyclers not to support PSI or EPR.
California (currently the only state with a carpet EPR law), has a carpet recycling rate triple the national average. The law was amended in 2017 to set an even higher recycling performance target.
How We’re Leading the Way
PSI is working closely with carpet recyclers, the Illinois Product Stewardship Council and New York Product Stewardship Council, and Minnesota governments to promote effective EPR bills for carpet in their states and lead coalitions to support their passage. We are providing model bill language, technical assistance, educational resources, and lobbying support.
Our How-To Guide for Advancing Carpet Stewardship helps governments, organizations, and others to start and promote carpet stewardship programs. We conduct research on carpet production, composition, disposal, recycling, and environmental impacts to tailor the resources available to our network.