Recycled Carpet: The best carpets and pad for the environment

Do running lights in unused rooms make you cringe? Is your recycling bin towering over your trash can? Do you drive a Prius, other hybrid, or bike to work? Do you call to report dripping sinks in commercial buildings? Is your refrigerator filled with organic, locally grown foods that you took home in your reusable grocery bag? If your answers yes to more than one of these questions, you are most likely going green.

The challenge and great opportunity for eco-friendly living is there’s always room to improve. Let’s face it, unless you’re living an Amish lifestyle, our consumer driven society has made it increasingly difficult not to have a significant environmental footprint. I applaud those who are doing everything in your power to make the world a better place, an effort that not only helps today’s world but future generations.

One often overlooked aspect of going green is your flooring. Billions (with a “b”) pounds of carpet are dumped in landfills each year. I had an idea the amount of trashed carpet would be a large number, but when I read it was billions, that blew me away! To make this statistic worse, the majority of homes are constructed with carpets made of oils and plastic (not biodegradable substances). The optimism in this situation is there is a lot of room for improvement. To help you out, I’ll explain the options for green carpet, green padding, and disposing of your old carpet without hurting the environment.

Captain’s plea for help! Carpet is the #2 product in landfills, but the majority of people aren’t even aware you can recycle it! I made an infographic you can check out by clicking here summarizing the damage of carpet in landfills. Please feel free to share the infographic to help out our Earth.

Green carpets

Wool Carpet
Wool is the natural choice for green carpet. It comes straight off of the sheep, and better than recyclable, it re-grows. This is our top choice for green carpeting, but it does come with a cost—literally. Wool is the most expensive carpet fiber you’ll find. This cost can be diluted when you consider its durability; I had one reader write in and say her wool carpet lasted her over 40 years!

PET polyester
You might be surprised to see polyester make the eco-friendly list. After all, it is a plastic. PET polyester carpets are made from recycled materials. Common recycled items that may make up this carpet are bottle caps and used tires. This is your cheapest recyclable carpet. The catch is it’s one of the least durable fibers, so reserve this carpet only for areas that aren’t heavily trafficked.

Sorona Smartstrand
One of the newest environmentally fibers, Sorona Smartstrand is made of corn sugar. It is a very high performing carpet fiber. It is one of the best in terms of durability and the best in terms of stain resistance (in our opinion). Since utilizing corn sugar may take away from animal and human feed, this may make it not as environmentally friendly as the previous two options. However, you could argue that the durability of Sorona Smartstrand makes it more eco-friendly than PET polyester. It depends on how you look at it. This is a very exciting new carpet fiber; if you aren’t familiar with it, I suggest read more.

Captain’s caution: A ‘Smartstrand’ carpet is not necessarily environmentally friendly. It must either have ‘Sorona’ in the name or state ‘Smartstrand made with Sorona’.

Other recycled brands
You may come across some brands that claim to have recycled carpet. Most of these are a type of PET polyester (explained above) but some will be nylon carpet. This typically means that recycled rugs or other materials were used to create the carpet. One caution is that it does not mean that the entire carpet is recycled. If you come across one of these carpets and eco-friendliness is important to you, ask the company to clarify the percentage of recycled materials and the process.

Carpets with large environmental footprints

If you have trouble budgeting for or finding a wool, PET polyester, or Sorona Smartstrand carpet that you like, it may not be in your cards to get an eco-friendly carpet. Nevertheless, all is not lost–you can still limit the damage by avoiding the carpets with the biggest environmental footprint. The number one fiber to avoid is olefin. It is petroleum based and not durable. In other words, this petroleum based carpet will end up in the landfill in less than 10 years.

Nylon carpets are great for durability but not for the environment. They are also made of synthetic, non-recyclable materials. However, nylon is better than olefin because of its durability. Long lasting nylon carpet means less nylon needs to be produced.

Green carpet padding

Green padding is easier to come by than green carpet. Rebond padding is the most popular choice of carpet padding and coincidently very environmentally friendly. Rebond is made of bits of recycled chair upholstery. Slab rubber pad is also an option. Made of solid rubber, its contents are anything but green. However, its ultra-durability allows it to bereusedd for years. It may never end up in the landfill.

What to do with your old carpet

If you’ve come this far in your article, I commend your effort in seeking environmentally friendly carpet, but I also have one question: what are you doing with your old carpet? Even if you or the previous homeowner didn’t take the environment into consideration with the flooring you’re about to get rid of, protecting the environment isn’t a lost cause. There are actually a couple of options to prevent your carpet from becoming a landfill statistic.

Your first option is to ask your retailer if they’ll recycle it. Some will, some won’t, but it never hurts to ask. Most charge for dumping carpet, so they’re more likely to charge you for recycling it. Ask what this fee will be, so you aren’t shocked when you get the bill. You can also try asking your installer what he does with the carpet.

If your retailer won’t recycle carpet (or you don’t trust them when they say they will—in which case, why are you buying your carpet from them?) there are ways you can take matters into your own hands. The carpet industry and government paired up to create an organization called CARE (Carpet America Recovery Act), an organization created to reduce the amount of carpet being dumped in landfills. The CARE website has a list of “reclamation partners.” This includes the contact information for centers near you that have agreed to recycle carpet. Unfortunately, recycling costs money, so you’ll want to ask what the charge will be to drop of your carpet. Here is a list of these sites, so you can find one near you.

To reduce the cost of recycling, ask your installer if they’re willing to make a deal with you. They normally have to pay (and will charge you) a dumping fee anyway, so if you just tell them where to go, they might not charge you extra to take your carpet to the recycling center instead. If the recycling center charges more than their dump site or is a longer drive, they might charge you extra but not as much as the center itself costs.

Captain’s parting words!

With a little knowledge and skilled shopping, your carpet can compete with your Camry for best effort in saving the environment. Hopefully you can find something perfect for your home, that’s also easy on mother-nature. My ideal would be a slab rubber pad with a wool carpet. The sheep grows back its wool, and taken care of correctly, this combination will last nearly a lifetime. Also, please at least look into recycling the carpet you’re getting rid of. I understand some people won’t have it in the budget, but it never hurts to at least ask.

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Donnell Jones
3 months ago

I have a ton of new carpet and used
This above trash and don’t know what to do

roxanne engle
11 months ago

Thank you for this information. We found a recycling place for carpet just north of Indianapolis in Westfield I believe. There is a small charge to recycle your carpet but worth it because it is the right thing to do.
Please keep up the good info!

Brent Ehrlich
1 year ago

Very helpful articles! But note that most serious green building professionals avoid recycled polyurethane foam because the feedstocks still contain brominated flame retardants (which are no longer used in California). In fact, BFRs are not allowed in many green building programs. It is a complicated sustainability story because reusing foam and keeping it out of landfills should be a good thing, but BFRs are persistent, bioaccumulative toxins that do not bond well to foam so they end up in household dust…this is bad for all of us but especially for kids who crawl around and then put their hands in… Read more »

Kim Miller
1 year ago

Thanks so much for this helpful article. You boiled it down into simple terms. I have been so confused when looking for eco-friendly carpet in the stores. And thanks for the information about recycling sites. There is one near where our son lives 48 miles away, so we can take our carpet there and take our son to lunch!

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