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

February 2017 Report
Swept under the carpet: graphic of businessman kneeling on world carpet

Executive summary

The responsible use of resources is one of the key challenges of our time. Europeans already use 1.5-times the amount of resources that the Earth can regenerate in one year and there is a political consensus that this trend needs to be reversed. For this reason, circular economy has been high on the agenda of French and European environmental policy and is often among the key sustainability commitments of the business sector. Resource-efficient circular economy not only brings benefits to the environment, but also leads to economic benefits and job creation.

This report focuses on the application of circular economy principles to the carpet industry. In 2016, nearly 700 million square metres of carpet were sold in the EU, which makes it the second biggest market, after the U.S. This sector has a significant impact on the environment, not only in the manufacturing process, but also at the end-of-life stage. Each year about 1.6 million tons of used carpet are disposed of in Europe – most of them ending up in landfills and incinerators.

The carpet industry, however, is a sector where circular solutions already exist and could be scaled up. For this reason, the following measures need to be implemented:

  • Carpet manufacturers need to focus on designing carpets with reuse and recyclability in mind.
  • Manufacturers, retailers and municipalities need to provide infrastructure for separate collection of carpet waste to prevent contamination and enable easier reuse and recycling.
  • Carpet companies need to scale up recycling facilities that provide high quality recycling of carpet back to carpet, in a closed-loop system.

The report describes a reality that is still far from this vision, and a sector that is lagging behind its circular economy commitments. After its useful life, almost all French and European carpets are burnt in incinerators or dumped in landfills. In the absence of any transparency on the recycling rates in the sector, the precise amount of recycled carpet in Europe was very difficult to establish. The authors of the report, however, believe that less than 3 percent of carpets sold are collected for recycling, and that part of this ‘recycling’ is in fact ‘down-cycling’ – a transformation into a product of an inferior quality that is generally not recyclable at the end of its useful life. The loop is far from being closed.

In addition to this, the research carried out for this report highlights that the two leading manufacturers on the EU market (and self-proclaimed sustainability leaders), Interface and Desso, lag behind their own commitments to close the loop:

  • Desso and Interface: discrepancy between environmental claims and reality. For several years, these two manufacturers have set high environmental targets and sustainability commitments. Interface has committed to producing “zero waste” by 2020, while Desso says it will include all their products into a “Cradle-to-Cradle®” system. These commitments have been very effective, as the two companies are frequently invited to share the lessons on circular economy in the media or at events. However, the research for this report has revealed that Interface and Desso have recycling rates of carpets at the end of life at around 1.5 percent and 3 percent respectively. In the light of this, meeting their own commitments by 2020 seems challenging.
  • Zero level of circular economy in the events sector.
    In France, the events sector is particularly problematic, as it treats its carpet as disposable product that is virtually never reused or recycled. Some 1,135 fairs are being 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. A large part of the stands, aisles, external spaces or stairs is covered with single-use carpet. The duration of use of the carpet is just a few hours or a few days, after which all this carpet is disposed of, leading to a large amount of unnecessary waste. Better alternatives, such as rental systems that enable reuse, exist and are more largely used in other European countries.

To move the carpet sector towards a true circular economy, immediate actions must be taken by public authorities, carpet manufacturers, consumers and event professionals. Due to the relatively long lifespan of carpets, the impact of these measures will not be visible immediately, but rather several years down the line. Because of this, the report concludes that the transition must start immediately, with better designed products being sold on the market and a progressive increase in local recycling infrastructure. Otherwise, the industry will be trapped in an unsustainable linear economic model for another 10 to 15 years.


…carpet manufacturers must design carpets with reuse and recyclability in mind, develop collection and recycling facilities and clearly label the materials used in the carpets to facilitate recycling by other actors.

…French authorities must draft a report about the reuse and recycling potential of carpets – in application of the Energy Transition for Green Growth legislation (Article 101) – and challenge false environmental allegations of companies that are involved in treating carpet waste.

…carpet consumers in the business sector (companies owning offices, hotels, public administration) should request information about the reusability, recyclability and environmental impacts of their carpets and make sustainable decisions when purchasing them. They should also be involved in the take-back schemes for carpets at the endof-life. Furthermore, they should resort to leasing services instead of purchasing new carpets.

…event professionals should rent re-usable carpet rather than purchase disposable ones. They should also have better flooring maintenance as this might make the use of carpets unnecessary.

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