Ground-breaking trials by Axion Consulting have shown waste polypropylene carpets can be recycled into good quality polymer pellet for re-use in new applications, such as injection-moulded products.
The findings could stimulate the UK’s fledgling carpet recycling industry and develop new markets for PP recyclate with associated environmental and economic benefits.
The project was initiated by Carpet Recycling UK which secured funding from Envirolink NW to investigate recycling options for post-consumer carpets and possible new end-use markets for PP products made from recovered material. Processing stages involved size reduction, screening and extrusion.
Tests showed that while post-industrial extruded polymer had potential for use in a range of applications including injection moulding, further work was needed to verify its suitability. Post-consumer material could be recycled for medium to lower grade applications such as plant pots, compost bins or buckets.
Axion’s demonstration trials and laboratory tests at its Salford plant concluded that while the economics of the recycling process ‘look promising’, the next steps would require large-scale trials to assess commercial viability.
Axion Director Roger Morton says:
“We believe this is the first in-depth study of its kind in the UK and are very pleased with the positive results. Carpet recycling in the UK is currently limited with only a few companies involved and recycling processing in development stages. So this successful study shows exciting potential and promise for material recovery from a difficult and largely-ignored waste stream.”
Axion also found that correct identification and segregation of post-consumer carpets into an entirely PP fraction is critical to the viability of a commercial process to recycle carpets. Mixed polymer carpet material is not suitable for extrusion, so their end market is still likely to be other applications.
Currently very few recycling processes exist to handle the UK’s 500,000 tonnes of carpet waste that is sent to landfill each year. The UK’s carpet industry recycling rate is under 2% - an estimated 6,000 to 10,000 tonnes – so developing reprocessing infrastructure could significantly reduce the environmental impact of carpet disposal.
Carpet Recycling UK was formed as a not-for-profit association of companies from the carpet industry to take a lead in waste reduction by co-ordinating research and development and has built up a significant knowledge base. The organisation is now seeking further research funding and wants to pursue commercial scale carpet recycling trials as Chief Executive Kate Chappell explains:
“This study shows there is great potential to reclaim valuable material from carpet waste and re-use it in new products in a variety of end markets. We are actively pursuing fresh sources of funding to take this exciting breakthrough to new levels.”
Dave Taylor from Envirolink Northwest comments:
“By funding trials to help divert post-consumer waste carpets from landfill, Envirolink is actively supporting the Government's directives to reduce landfill, while building a low carbon economy in the region. This successful outcome will have both environmental and economic benefits, as future growth in the region's recycling sector will help to create and safeguard jobs.