Innovation sometimes takes scrapping all traditional thought and starting over. That's what happened when a carpet supplier wanted to reinvent carpet - one of the leading hogs of landfill space. With a reinvention of the manufacturing and the installation, carpet becomes, as William McDonough, 2016 HIVE dean puts it, a "cradle to cradle" product.

But Mohawk, the second-largest carpet distributor in the U.S., wanted to address this challenge for the industry. "We have a track record of innovation at Mohawk," says Tom Lape, the president of Mohawk's residential division. 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.

The simplicity of the Airo monomaterial carpet is a far cry from the traditionally constructed carpets that proliferated throughout homes in the 1950s and '60s, leaving tack marks and scrapes on hardwood floors when ripped up and sent to landfill. "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.

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