How One Company is Remanufacturing Carpet

We hear a lot about using sustainable principles throughout the whole life cycle of a product, the so-called ‘cradle to grave’ approach. Carpet is no exception to this approach, or at least the need for it. Many carpet firms are publicising their environmental credentials but one firm in particular have put a great deal of effort particularly into the end of the carpet life cycle.

This cradle to grave approach means looking at the origins of the raw materials, the use of sustainable energy and waste techniques throughout the manufacturing process, distributing and selling responsibly and then providing the means to recycle or reuse the product, or at least dispose of it in an eco-friendly manner.

Environmental Initiatives at Milliken Carpet

Milliken Carpet is part of an American company with strong ethics. For a long time the UK division has been using recycled nylon for its nylon and nylon/wool blend pile and the backing too. They also take back old carpet, when replacing it as part of a commercial contract, to recondition and re-sell it rather than putting it straight into landfill sites.

Milliken has a particular initiative launched in the USA in 1992 known as ‘Earth Square’. This plant in Georgia takes carpet tiles and rejuvenates it to the point where it can be used again. There is a ten-year guarantee issued although the carpet can be expected to last longer under light use.

Earth Square Carpet Renewal Process

The Earth Square process cleans the carpet intensively then re-texturises it and re-works the pattern. The resulting carpet can then be returned to the original site or sold to a new customer under the Earth Square brand. Not all carpets or carpet tiles can stand the treatment, although Milliken know that their own products can.

The first building in the UK to be fitted out using Earth Square renewed carpet was the new Tattershall Stand at Newbury Racecourse. Designed by the world famous architect partnership Foster and Partners it was officially opened in November 2000. But the process needs frequent large scale jobs to make it environmentally worthwhile to transport the carpet to the USA and back, so the majority of the plant’s use is with North American customers.

Local Processes

In the UK Milliken focuses on smaller scale initiatives and, as far as reusing carpet goes, operates a ‘Take Back’ programme to manage the recovery and redeployment of used carpet and raw materials. Depending on the age and condition of the carpet it is either broken down and disposed of or given a new life.

Carpets that have gone past the stage of renewal are broken down into composite materials and recycled or disposed of and the energy content recovered wherever possible. Carpet and tiles that can be re-used are cleaned, catalogued and sorted ready to be resold though social enterprises. These enterprises re-sell the carpet to third sector organisations and small businesses.

Recognition of Environmental Credentials

The Building Research Establishment certified an environmental profile for Milliken and the Earth Square process in 2004. The company gained an ‘A’ rating, the first to be awarded to a carpet manufacturer. The certification recognises efforts to reduce the impact on the environment throughout the manufacturing process and in all aspects of the company and its facilities.

In order to gain the accreditation Milliken had to demonstrate commitment to environmental considerations. These included removing blue asbestos from all its plants, reducing the use of dangerous chemicals and introducing and enforcing safe procedures for using those that remain. They also maintain a zero-landfill policy, recycling or reusing all materials that go through their factories and offices.

Cost is Important

Milliken expects that most carpet can be reused once and some even twice, which will prevent the carpet ending up in a landfill site. As landfill disposal taxes increase the renewal process is becoming cheaper than the cost throwing carpet away.

This obviously makes it a more attractive proposition – despite companies’ green intentions the economics of business will often come first.