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Recycling carpets

Updated: Aug 15, 2023

A grey rug beside a settee

Source: (Unsplash)

Carpets are a common item in every household, yet, one may not have thought of the consequences regular carpet changes can pose to the environment. Around 400,000 tonnes of carpets are discarded every year, and that is solely in the UK.

This number represents several environmental challenges, the major one being that carpets arecomposites made from both biodegradable (e.g. wool) and non-biodegradable materials. In general, they are composed of 4 layers: face fibre, primary backing, adhesives and secondary backing. These layers often contain chemicals which are toxic for humans as well as the environment. For instance, the backings can be made out of PVC which can lead to reproductive and developmental disorders, endocrine disruptors and even cancer. The production of this substance also contributes to the pollution of water and air. Even the biodegradable face fibre, such as wool, is often treated with stain-resistant chemicals which are harmful to the environment. A recent study found that carpets sold in the EU may contain up to 59 hazardous chemicals. The problem is deepened by the limited amount of landfill space and the landfill costs which have been on the increase.

Consequently, it is vital to minimise the amount of new carpets that go to landfill. One option is, similarly to windows, to recycle them. This process begins with collection points where carpets can be dropped off, and prepared for recycling by sorting them based on fibre composition. The carpets are then delivered to the recycling plant where they can be either shredded or cut into smaller pieces and de-looped. After cleaning, the material is melted together, condensed and packed. Recycled carpets have a broad utilization. Besides from new carpets, they can be manufactured into engineering plastic products in automotive, home and garden industry or even used as compost and growing media.

Another popular choice is to convert the carpet waste into energy (i.e. electricity, heat, fuel) via incineration. Although meant to replace traditional sources like coal, Procurato would encourage insurers to research this topic carefully before adopting or endorsing it because burning carpets at high temperatures can cause dangerous substances to be emitted into the air. Needless to say, a key part of supplier due diligence should already be to ensure, specifically, that the insurer knows which strategies their supply chain uses to dispose of carpets.

The final option is to buy carpets from companies which produce and design carpets in a new, innovative and sustainable way. They achieve this either by eliminating poisonous substances or by using eco-friendly materials such as cashmere goat-hair, fishing nets and plastic bottles. As these manufacturers represent only a small share of the market, they need to be supported in order to reach a toxic-free circular economy.

Procurato believes there is much positive CSR mileage to be gained for insurers who support these methods, in addition to being ahead of the curve in relation to adopting a sustainable supplier base should environmental constraints further tighten.

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