Around 3.5 billion pounds of carpet are tossed each year and end up in landfills in the U.S. Because carpets are made up of such a complex array of chemicals, like latex and PVC, they’re next to impossible to recycle, says Fast Company writer Eillie Anzilotti. But carpet manufacturer Mohawk is addressing the issue with 100% recycled carpets.
Mohawk partnered with the Dutch manufacturing company DSM, who along with the tech startup Niaga ("again" spelled backwards), had devised a way to manufacture fully recyclable carpets using just one material—polyester. Mohawk adapted that technology into its new line of Airo carpets, which launched in January at the International Surface Event in Las Vegas, where it won awards in product design and innovation. The carpets will hit the consumer market later this year.
"Most people don’t understand, but carpet is a highly engineered material," says Bruce Petrovick, the account manager for DSM North America. "The way it’s traditionally made, it contains multiple layers, and each layer contains multiple different types of materials."
In its simplest form, traditional carpet has two layers: a backing and a face fiber (the part you walk on). The face fiber is either made of nylon, polyester, or polypropylene. That's attached to a backing made of either PVC or latex; the two layers are bound together with a combination of polypropylene and calcium carbonate. The early carpet manufacturers, Petrovick says, had one goal: to figure out how to hold everything together—and chemicals were effective at doing so. By manipulating pure polyester to form every element of the carpet, from base to tufts, the flooring, when discarded, can be returned to the manufacturer, ground up, and repurposed as yet another carpet. The "closed loop" nature of the production cycle, Petrovick says, will also stabilize prices.