Recycling carpets is good for environment

October 19, 2010

By Laura Geggel

Recycling carpet can be a Sisyphean task. Part fuzz, part glue and part plastic, most people throw it away, explaining why every year about 50,000 tons of carpet ends up in the King County landfill.

“It’s a tremendous amount of valuable resources that goes to waste,” King County Solid Waste Division Program Manager Kris Beatty said.

Carpet can be ground up and then used as an oil absorbent, or its materials can be separated and then sold back to carpet manufacturers or other companies, like toy makers.

Long’s Floors in Issaquah (above) recycled more than six tons of carpet from August to September by working with Benchmark Recycling hauling company and Recycle 1, of Tacoma. By Bill Johnson

Jeff Long, co-owner of Long’s Floors in Issaquah and a recycling advocate, said he looked for years for a way to recycle the tons of carpet his company removes from houses.

He recycles so much, he can often be found rooting through his company’s dumpster, looking for cardboard, plastics or electronics that can be recycled instead of routed to the landfill.

For the past eight years, he has recycled urethane carpet cushions, the padding that goes underneath carpets, but he could never find a way to recycle the carpet itself.

After a recent online search, he learned about Recovery 1, a company that receives construction, demolition and land-clearing debris. In the past 17 years, the company has recycled more than 1.3 million tons of materials that would otherwise be sitting in landfills, Recovery 1 General Manager Terry Gillis said.

Starting Aug. 24, Long ordered an additional Dumpster designated for holding old carpet that he has transported to Recovery 1.

“This whole dumpster gets recycled,” Long said, climbing inside and showing mountainous piles of torn carpet inside.

In September, the Dumpster weighed about six tons, which Long proudly shipped to Recovery 1.

Steve and Trish Ravagni, of Issaquah, recently had Long’s Floors recarpet their entire house with SmartStrand, a carpet made out of corn. While Trish and her husband did not know their old carpet would be recycled prior to the project, they were grateful to learn that it did not get thrown away.

“I was absolutely thrilled,” Trish Ravagni said. “I think it’s so important for us to stop putting stuff like that in our landfills. Our landfills are a disaster. When people throw things away, they don’t really go away.”

Carpet strategy project

A plan exists for recycling carpet, but it has yet to be put into motion. In 2009 and 2010, King County Solid Waste Division worked with Seattle Public Utilities to create the Northwest Carpet Recycling Strategy.

The strategy outlines a number of actions, including encouraging carpet companies to start product stewardship programs, much like the electronics industry now has to recycle old appliances in Washington.

Washington is not alone in its push for product stewardship. California just passed the Carpet Product Stewardship bill, which requires carpet manufacturers to work on a plan that would lead to carpet recycling.

The Northwest strategy also encourages local companies to use recycled carpet, so it would not have to be shipped to Georgia, where most carpet is made. If local companies are using recycling products, they can reduce their carbon footprint.

For example, manufacturing one ton of new carpet from virgin materials would take 85,000 more pounds of carbon dioxide than it would to make a new carpet out of recycled materials, Beatty said.

As of now, the only company in the area that recycles carpet is Recovery 1. As of now, the company grinds up old carpets and either uses them as oil absorbents or ships them back to Georgia.

Gillis said he expects to have equipment that can separate the different materials in the carpet by the end of the year.

King County Solid Waste is grateful for Recovery 1’s work and goals, Beatty said.

“We want to see at least one facility here that can do that, a facility that could break the carpet down into its various components,” Beatty said. “It’s not all made of one material. They have to break it down into the nylon and the polypropylene and the calcium carbonate.”

Do-it-yourself recycling

So long as the carpets are not wet or contaminated with a hazardous material or asbestos, Gillis said Recovery 1 would accept carpets from people tearing out their own old carpets. Still, he asked them to call him first at 800-949-5852 toll free, or go to his website.

“They have to be cautious about asbestos contamination,” Gillis said. “We’ve had a real problem with that in the past. Asbestos was used a lot in building materials. It’s not something I want in my plant and it’s not something I want in recycled materials.”

He has eight certified asbestos inspectors and a number of machines that check for contamination, he said.

No matter the challenges, Gillis encouraged others to aid the recycling effort.

“I’m a grandfather,” he said. “We’re not leaving our kids and our grandchildren a lot to be proud of these days. We got to do better.”

Laura Geggel: 392-6434, ext. 241, or lgeggel@isspress.com. Comment at www.issaquahpress.com.

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