More than 4 billion pounds (1.8 billion kg) of carpet are sent to landfills each year. Because carpet is non-biodegradable, it stays for millions of years in landfills that are quickly filling. In summer 2008, five Houston school districts took an alternative route and recycled their carpet during remodeling of 17 buildings.

The school districts—Clear Creek Independent School District, Cypress-Fairbanks ISD, Galveston ISD, Katy ISD and Spring Branch ISD— participated in a nationwide closed-loop recycling program and altogether recycled about 90,000 square yards (75250 m2) of carpet. The recycling program, which is sponsored by a carpet manufacturer and dubbed the Infinity Initiative, takes used vinyl-backed carpet from commercial buildings to a recycling center where the backing and yarn is made into backing for new carpet. “We’re constantly looking for ways to be more energy efficient and make our [school] buildings more sustainable,” says Jeff Windsor, director of planning and construction for Spring Branch ISD, which underwent a complete remodel. “The [carpet recycling] is a very nice little piece of that puzzle where we can recycle a pretty large and fairly expensive part of a building.” The process is simple. First, the reclaimed material is transported to a recycling facility where it is cut into small pieces, which then are processed into fine pellets and blended together according to weight. The pellets are extruded into a pliable 3-foot (0.9-m) rope. Material is transferred to a calender where

hardened steel cylinders form it into a recycled composite-sheet backing. Completed backing material is rolled and cut so it is ready to be power- bonded to nylon face materials. The finished product is 100 percent recycled content and 100 percent recyclable. Conducted during summer break, the program inconveniences the schools very little. Windsor says it took about 2 1/2 weeks to pull the carpet up at the beginning of June and about 2 weeks to install the new carpet at the end of July. Recycling the carpet also is a way for schools to be environmentally friendly while adhering to their budgets. “For no additional expense to the district, we were able to help with the greening of our school and be a little bit more socially responsible,” Windsor says. “You get good PR with the community and board members, who are members of our community. They are looking to us to try to make our buildings recycle more and use less energy.” When recycling carpet, it’s important to keep it separate from any other materials that are being extracted from the school.

During the schools’ remodeling, more than the carpet was being removed. Other debris, such as electrical wire, easily could be thrown in with the carpet; a separate container for the carpet is a good idea. Flooring tile under the carpet also is picked up with it at times, which must be removed before the recycling process. Although this only is one manufacturer’s program, carpet recycling has gained prominence in recent years. According to the Carpet America Recovery Effort, Dalton, Ga., 296 million pounds (134 million kg) of post-consumer carpet was reported to be diverted from landfills in 2007, marking a 17 percent increase from 2006. The amount of greenhouse gas avoided by diverting that much carpet is equivalent to 2.5 million barrels of oil, 230,000 passenger cars or 5,400 railcars of coal. Since CARE’s inception in 2002, it has reported diverting 1 billion pounds (450 million kg) of carpet from landfills.

For more information about the Infinity Initiative, a closed-loop recycling program created by Dalton, Ga.-based Tandus, visit


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