The 1960’s were the hey-day of carpet. This colourful, noise reducing, imperfection-hiding, low-maintenance, comfort and slip-resistant floor covering surpassed all. It was a wall-to-wall whole-house flooring extravaganza. Our new (old) house was no exception there was plenty of it in all rooms except for wet areas and the kitchen.

It was a sad day for our Modernist sustainable renovation efforts last year when the first job we had to do was remove carpet – knowing it is likely to be the single largest (by volume) waste that we’ll be contributing to landfill during this project.

We pulled up some mighty fine 40-year old loop pile, some Cavalier Bremworth woollen broadloom (sounds like a fine scotch) and then wondered what to do with it – we called around, read, stalled…..and sighed.


According to the Carpet Institute of Australia (formed in purple-tufted 1967) the local industry is still healthy, with national sales of around $1.6 billion per year. An increasing percentage is imported sadly, however the bulk of consumption (80%) is manufactured in Melbourne, employing around 3,300 workers.

Carpet manufacture is the largest single component of the Australian textiles manufacturing industry. And good news too for SA as there is an Adelaide based carpet company – the EC Group, recently highlighted in the Adelaide Review as “punching well above it’s weight”.

The bummer about carpet though is it’s end-of-life treatment.

In 2011, approximately 56 million square metres of carpet was laid. Once it reaches it’s end-of-life 80% of that carpet will go directly to landfill. That’s a major contribution to our dumps. The renovator in me rages at the knowledge that we are contributing to this landfill waste. What we don’t hear enough of in green circles is that 30-40% of landfill waste comes from building sites.

The US has an incredible carpet recycling industry. CARE (Carpet American Recovery Effort) have managed in just over a decade to recycle over 3 billion pounds of carpet – pointing out that “successful waste carpet recycling begins at the point of collection”. To date there’s no financial, innovation or ethical driver to do that here at any scale.

There are other options – but there is only so much you can do with scrap carpet (see here 10 uses for carpet scraps) and what if every house has enough scrap carpet for 100 houses? Although carpets and rugs are made of recyclable fibres such as wool, nylon and polypropylene there are NO commercial recycling facilities in the country that take carpet from any source.

An alternative, innovative manufacturing opportunity right there South Australia…..

Until such options become available, the options are ;

1) Try to sell or give away to carpet second supplies or salvage or Habitat-for-Humanity charity stores,

2) Give away to anyone willing to collect

3) Then disposal options as a last resort.

(That’s about as disappointing as this colour scheme).

1960s carpet

There are some positive steps being taken by a select few if you do your research.

Three companies Ontera, Godfrey Hirst and Cavalier Bremworth have recycling mechanisms for their own products. you are purchasing carpet, favour these innovators…..

Cavalier Bremworth 100% wool product (bought for commercial scale projects) may be returned when replacing the flooring with new product. The returned biodegradable wool and rubber carpet is recycled into weed-matting at the end of its life (over 30 000 mats have been given to school and council revegetation projects with research apparently showing no toxic compound run-off).

Even better, Godfrey Hirst will take their own commercial product back to be re-manufacturered in Geelong as backing for their own new carpets.

Ontera takes it own product back and to date 600 tonnes have been super cleaned and refreshed with a new design surface. They say their tiles may have one or even two new lives.  Called Earthplus, the company has calculated that for every 1000 sq. metres of carpet saved, 5 tonnes of materials are saved in new carpet manufacture.

When purchasing new carpet, consider that generally speaking synthetic polymers will remain in landfill for significantly longer than natural fibres (such as wool and jute). Woollen carpets are likely to biodegrade in less than ten years. Another reason to purchase wool – approximately 90% of second hand commercial carpet is wool. Carpets and carpet tiles selected by architects on major projects from commercial sites can be sought for a fraction of the original price.

On the flip side once an industry for recycling is established, some synthetic products like nylon are the preferred option, as they are the most highly durable material for a second life.

 McMats Recycled Carpet is a final option. For 18 years they have been diverting commercial floor coverings from landfill in Melbourne. They collect commercial carpets, whose previous owners can afford the simple steps that make domestic collection so difficult. At a domestic scale carpet is highly contaminated with stains, timber & tacks. With large expanses of flooring, the product has fewer contaminants, they can roll and load yarn side out and transport directly to the recycler. That’s all it takes. 

Contamination is the main reason why we don’t recycle. Oh, and collection is complicated.

It’s difficult. That’s it. If we handled it as carefully as we did coming into a house, this problem could be solved. So simple. So frustrating.

There’s no real way to end this post. So I’ll just sweep the crumbs into a corner…….