The Retailer's Role in Sustainable Carpet

With the vast majority of carpet waste, whether it’s new cut-offs or worn out carpet, ending up in landfill it’s no surprise that in these increasingly eco-aware times the UK government is considering turning its attention to the carpet and flooring sector to improve reuse and recycling.

Carpet and Landfill

A report published in 1999 estimated that approximately seven per cent of the carpet industry’s annual income in the UK was lost each year by waste produced during the manufacturing and fitting of carpet. Landfill taxes were introduced in the UK in 1996 and are going up on a deliberately steep curve to try and dissuade commercial operations from taking waste to the tip.

Carpet was estimated to represent only two per cent of the waste dumped at landfill sites in the 1999 report but carpet and wood flooring in particular have become cheaper in real terms. There has also been an increase in flooring turnover in domestic dwellings driven by the fad for wood laminate flooring and more frequent interior decorating cycles promoted largely by television programmes.

It is also estimated that only two per cent of carpet that is disposed of is recycled. Recycling is the least preferred option when it comes to waste, we are exhorted to reduce and reuse before recycling. In order to ward off legislation aimed at forcing manufacturers and retailers to take on the brunt of recycling or reusing old carpet the flooring industry has formed its own carpet recycling body.

Industry Recycling Body

Carpet Recycling UK was formed to promote options for carpet recycling and reuse through publicity inside the industry and outside it. When retailers are involved in selling new carpet they are expected to try to persuade customers to reuse or recycle their carpet rather than simply throw it away.

This can cause problems for carpet retailers as the immediate response from any customer would presumably be to ask the retailer to take it off their hands. It’s at this point that the retailer should have a variety of solutions to offer the customer, hoping that one would be taken up.

Government Initiatives

The government body WRAP is involved in promotion of alternatives to dumping waste in landfill but also backs research into recycling methods and processes. They have researched the viability of recycling carpet plastics to provide underlay for new carpets and using rubber from old car tyres for the same purpose. They are also promoting carpet reuse ‘banks’, where old but serviceable carpet can be cleaned, stored and then either re-sold or donated to people and organisations so that it can enjoy a second life.

At the time of going to press it was unclear as to whether the government will be pressing ahead with new legislation or not. It is assumed within the industry that this will eventually come and in a similar fashion to the WEEE initiative for electrical and electronic goods, it will put the onus on the manufacturers to help consumers dispose of their flooring when it comes to the end of its life. It is further assumed by retailers that they will be the conduit for this duty of care as they have contact with customers whereas the manufacturers do not.

Laminate Flooring – A Problem in Waiting?

One final point to make about this is that the focus has been more on carpet than any other flooring at the moment but laminate flooring is about to present a similar if not more taxing problem. This is a relatively recent arrival on the flooring market and unlike many other flooring products there is not yet any clear use for it once it has reached the end of its life.

WRAP has identified it as a significant future waste stream for which there is no market. Because the product is a mix of glues, plastics, mixed timber and special finishes it is unlikely that it will be economically feasible to separate the flooring into reusable raw materials.