Carpets in circular economy

The concept of circular economy provides the blueprint on how we can bring our consumption back within planetary boundaries, where we eliminate waste and keep all resources in a closed loop. Each industry needs to step up their efforts to transition towards a resource-efficient circular economy, starting with better design of their products, better collection and dramatic increase in recycling rates. Our campaign has focused on the carpet industry, where circular alternatives exist, but are not taken up by the market. The Campaign started in the United States (U.S.), which is the biggest producer and consumer of carpets with some of the biggest companies in the world and continued in the biggest two markets in Europe: France and Germany.

Testing for Toxics: How chemicals in European carpets are harming health and hindering circular economy

October 2018

This report reveals the presence of toxics – including suspected carcinogens and endocrine disruptors – in carpets produced and sold by some of the largest carpet manufacturers in Europe. Based on the testing of carpet samples by the Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam, the Ecology Center and the University of Notre Dame, this investigation finds a number of substances, including phthalates, fluorinated stain repellents and halogenated flame retardants, in carpets sold by manufacturers such as Milliken and Forbo. The report pinpoints a lack of comprehensive chemicals regulation and lays bare how toxic substances in European carpet are posing a potential health risk to people in Europe, and hindering the transition to a circular economy. On a more positive side, the report also highlights examples of carpets where no toxics were detected (including in two carpets containing recycled content), which shows that carpet companies can become part of the solution towards toxic-free circular economy. Jointly launched by the Health and Environment Alliance (HEAL), Recycling Netwerk, Deutsche Umwelthilfe (DUH) and Women Engage for the Common Future (WECF) France, the report calls on carpet manufacturers to immediately remove toxics from their products, and calls on the EU and governments to close loopholes in chemicals legislation and realise circular economy through progressive policies such as Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR) schemes.

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Detoxing Carpets: pathways towards safe and recyclable carpet in a truly circular economy

March 2018

This briefing explores how hazardous substances found in European carpets are both negatively impacting on consumers’ and workers’ health, and preventing the carpet sector from transitioning to a circular economy model. Summarising findings of research by Anthesis Consulting, the briefing shows that carpets sold in the European Union (EU) can contain over 59 hazardous substances, including known carcinogens and endocrine disruptors. In addition to impacting on the health of citizens, the presence of these toxics brings technical and economic challenges to the recycling of carpets at end of life. Thereby toxics also hinder the industry’s transition to a circular economy model. The report concludes with recommendations for how the carpet sector must redesign its products and eliminate toxic substances to move towards a circular economy. Launched by the European Public Health Alliance (EPHA) and the Health and Environment Alliance (HEAL) in English, versions of the briefing were also published by Deutsche Umwelthilfe in Germany, Recycling Netwerk in the Netherlands, and by Women Engage for the Common Future (WECF) and HEAL in France.

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The CAREless carpet industry: A critique of the California Carpet Sterwardship Program’s Reliance on Incineration

April 2017

In California, carpet is one of the top ten biggest products in landfills, which is what prompted the state to adopt in 2010 the first and only law that placed responsibility for establishing a recycling infrastructure on carpet producers. The law established a producer-implemented and consumer-funded program to help alleviate the landfill burden and promote a circular economy of carpet waste. Yet, under the direction of the industry association, Carpet America Recovery Effort (CARE), California’s carpet stewardship program in its first five years failed to meet its own goal of 16 per cent recycling, while the amount of carpet going into incineration doubled over the same period. In the recently revised five-year strategy, CARE projected carpet incineration would vastly outpace the quantity recycled. This report shows how waste incineration is a waste of valuable resources and a massive source of pollution, releasing more than 2.5 times as much CO2 and carbon monoxide, 28 times as much dioxin and 6-14 times as much mercury as coal power plant per unit of energy produced. In addition, heavy reliance on incineration contravenes Californian legislation on the hierarchy of waste management, which treats energy transformation at the same levels as landfill. For this reason, CalRecycle should reject CARE as the stewardship organisation and prohibit the sale of carpet in California by retailers and manufacturers that are not covered by a stewardship program.

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Swept under the carpet: new report reveals the greenwash of the carpet industry in France

February 2017

At a time when European countries are considering ambitious recycling targets in the framework of the circular economy package, the carpet sector is lagging behind. A new report published by Zero Waste France and Changing Markets reveals that reuse and recycling are virtually non-existent in the carpet sector, despite environmental claims of two of its big players, Desso and Interface. Each year, 700 million square metres of carpet are placed on the European market. The authors of this report believe that less than 3 per cent of carpets sold are collected for recycling, and that part of this “recycling” is in reality down-cycling – a transformation into a product of an inferior quality that is generally not recyclable at the end of its useful life. In addition, the report reveals the scandalous levels of waste in the events sector in France, where carpet is used for only a few days, or even a few hours, before it is thrown in the bin. Some 1,135 fairs are held in France every year, representing an exhibition area of almost 6 million square metres, equivalent to more than 65,000 medium-sized homes in France. 

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Swept under the carpet: new report reveals the greenwash of the carpet industry in Germany

February 2017

Published by Deutsche Umwelthilfe in cooperation with Changing Markets, this report outlines how the carpet sector in Germany is lagging behind on its environmental commitments. The report reveals how the overcapacity for the treatment of municipal and commercial waste in Germany is undermining its ability to move towards a true circular economy, including in the carpet sector. Low prices encourage burning of recyclable materials and products; as a result, almost all carpets in Germany are incinerated, leading to a waste of precious resources, carbon emissions and toxic chemicals. The findings also highlight contradictions between the environmental claims of two of the big carpet players, Desso and Interface, and the unsustainable reality. 

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Swept under the Carpet: Exposing the Greenwash of the U.S. Carpet Industry

December 2016

In 2010, California became the first jurisdiction in the world to try to hold the carpet industry accountable for the waste it generates by enacting a law that made manufacturers responsible for establishing a landfill diversion program for carpets. This report reveals how the U.S. carpet industry tried to undermine this law and prevent any similar legislation in other U.S. states from emerging. In 2014, the carpet industry in the United States produced 11.7 billion square feet of carpet and rugs. Approximately 3.5 per cent of all waste disposed in U.S. landfills (4 billion pounds) is carpet discard. Despite the existence of the industry-led Carpet America Recovery Effort (CARE) initiative to responsibly manage carpet waste, an astounding 89 per cent is discarded in landfill, 6 per cent is incinerated, and less than 5 per cent is recycled. Of the 5 per cent that is recycled, only 20 per cent is recycled in a closed loop, i.e. turned back into carpet, while the rest is down-cycled into less valuable products. That means that only 1 per cent of carpet discards are recycled back into carpet each year. This report provides a series of recommendations on how the carpet industry can start a transition towards truly circular economy, starting with better product design.

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