This is a question we are asked on quite a regular basis and it’s one that people have often never asked themselves. Some of us spend most of our at home lives walking around on the stuff, yet most don’t actually understand what carpet is made of and with ever growing importance: How long does it take to degrade or decompose in landfill?
Over the ages, rugs and carpets have been made from a variety of woven fabrics, originally derived from natural materials such as wool – which is still used as a less common carpet material today. In the modern era, most carpets are made of synthetic materials, which are cheaper, hard wearing, but not always environmentally friendly.
Here are a few modern materials that make up carpet production, with their properties and environmental impact:
Polypropylene is a thermoplastic and is used in lighter wearing synthetic carpets, it is less durable than nylon but it can be manipulated into softer finishes and different shapes that produce differing textures under foot. Polypropylene is difficult to stain and therefore is often used in lighter carpets of the ‘olefin berber‘ variety.
Polypropylene can technically be recycled, however it requires a special process to recycle pure polypropylene, so once this has been treated, shaped and moulded to other materials to becomes your carpet – this makes the recycling process even harder and while there is currently a pilot trial for recycling polypropylene carpets. If you were to have one removed today by a general waste remover it is almost certain to go to landfill. Although not ideal, polypropylene will decompose in landfill within around 30 years.
Nylon is probably the most common material used for carpets today, it can be dyed easily, is hard wearing, is relatively moisture resistant and usually cheap. The huge environmental downside to nylon carpets is that nylon is a petrochemical and is derived from oil – the same oil that is used to produce the fuel for your car (unless you’ve gone electric).
Nylon can be recycled and is often used again in environmentally friendly products like eco-trainers and recycled plastic skateboards. However, more often than not, less knowledgeable waste removers or DIY-ers removing carpet themselves will usually send Nylon to the landfill, where it will take up to 40 years to decompose. Plus, as mentioned earlier, as a petrochemical, the creation of nylon is especially bad for our planet.
Wool (& wool blends with synthetic materials):
Wool has been used for carpets since their invention hundreds of years ago. Wool is still used today as its properties lend themselves well to the needs of carpet users: Wool is hard wearing, durable, and easy to obtain in most parts of the world – it can also be dyed easily but is counterintuitively quite resistant to spills and stains of the household variety.
Wool is often blended with synthetic materials to create an even harder wool blend. This is well suited to modern carpet production and makes up for most of the commercially available wool carpets on the market. However, the downside to this fantastic material is that it is comparatively expensive next to synthetic carpet materials such as nylon and therefore wool blend carpet is much rarer to find in big brand carpet shops.
Wool is completely biodegradable and will be back in the ground within three to four months of being put in landfill. Although it is worth noting that blended wool will take as long to degrade as the synthetic fibres used to create the blend itself. Still, this is a much greener solution should your budget reach that far.
Whatever materials are used to create carpet, be sure to always use a carpet removal specialist when you replace your old carpet with new. That way, no matter the material, you can be sure that the best methods will be used to recycle or ethically dispose of your carpets. If in doubt, ask Envirocycle for a quote.