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Recycling The U.K. recycling specialist Axion has developed a way to recover polypropylene pellets from used carpets.

Published on January 20th, 2010 | by Tina Casey

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Recycling Could Solve Pesky Polypropylene Carpet Problem



The U.K. recycling specialist Axion has developed a way to recover polypropylene pellets from used carpets.Yowzers – according to the U.S. EPA, about four billion, yes billion pounds of carpet go into the waste stream every year – much of it is used, some is new carpet left over from building construction.  A lot of that carpet (and carpet backing) is made of cheap, durable polypropylene fiber, which makes up about 80% of the sales for commercial carpet.

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Polypropylene, aka olefin, may be familiar to recycling addicts through its #5 plastic recycling designation, a number that can spell trouble.  Until now, recyclers have been slow to adopt #5, partly due to the expense of separating it from other materials.  Used polypropylene carpets on the other hand offer good potential for cost effective processing due to their sheer bulk and availability.

Polypropylene, Carpets and More

Because of its relatively low cost and high durability, polypropylene has a few other uses aside from carpets including ropes, plastic containers (margarine, yogurt, etc.), bottle tops and “living” hinges (think Tic-Tacs), lab equipment, auto parts, piping, furniture, consumer electronics and toys (cell phones, loudspeakers and Rubik’s Cube), lampshades, kettles, surgical materials, buckets, pitchers, model aircraft (in its foam form), car batteries, jewelry, stationery folders and storage boxes, coolers, air filters, insulated cable,  diapers (disposable, natch), and activity wear (Under Armour).  There is even polypropylene currency, if you can believe it. The annual global market for polypropylene adds up to about 45 million tons – a recycling gold mine ripe for the picking.

Polypropylene Recycling and Axion Polymers

Axion Polymers is a recycling specialist in the U.K. that has just announced it is ready to do some polypropylene picking, working with Carpet Recycling UK Ltd. and the public organization Envirolink Northwest.  The company has developed a method for recovering polypropylene from used carpets and converting it into pellets.  In this form the material is not suitable for manufacturing sensitive products such as lab equipment or food containers, but it could be reformed through injection molding into things like plant pots, compost bins and buckets.  Last year Axion undertook trial runs on a small scale that showed promise, and now it’s ready to embark on larger trials to demonstrate cost-effectiveness.

The Future of Carpet and Polypropylene Recycling

Axion has found that the key to cost-effective recycling of polypropylene carpets starts at the beginning, by selectively targeting “pure” polypropylene carpets for the process.  Carpets that contain mixed fibers are not suitable for this form of recycling, but at least it’s a start toward getting more #5 plastic out of the waste stream.  In the U.S., carpet recycling is starting to take off in San Francisco among other places, and companies like Aveda, Organic Valley and Stoneyfield Farms are focusing on small #5 plastic items like bottle caps and yogurt containers.

Image: Carpets by ishane on flickr.com.

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About the Author

Tina Casey specializes in military and corporate sustainability, advanced technology, emerging materials, biofuels, and water and wastewater issues. Tina’s articles are reposted frequently on Reuters, Scientific American, and many other sites. You can also follow her on Twitter @TinaMCasey and Google+.



  • Edward

    i work at KW plastics in Troy Alabama.We are light years ahead of all the other recycle company’s around.We have been recycling bottle caps,milk jugs and tide bottles for years now.Oh and we have been recycling carpet for over a year now.Not to mention battery casings for years.Im really proud of the hard work Kenny and Wiley have done in the recycle bussiness.

  • Charlie Peters

    Clean Air Performance Professionals

    Friday, January 29, 2010

    Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger

    State Capitol Building

    Sacramento, CA 95814

    Phone: 916-445-2841

    Fax: 916-558-3160 ( new number )

    C/o Lisa

    RE: Sierra Research Report SR 2007-04-01

    Dear Mr. Governor

    California Air Resources Board (CARB) and The Department of Consumer Affairs/ Bureau of Automotive Repair DCA/BAR have contracted with Sierra Research for a Report of Smog Check performance.

    Sierra has informed me the report was final in March 2009 and released to CARB.

    CARB, BAR, IMRC, and the California Legislature are using the Report for public policy but refusing to release the publicly funded Report.

    Mr. Governor, I’m confused, can you refer me to someone who might help?

    Cc to interested parties

    From: Charlie Peters

    Clean Air Performance Professionals

    cappcharlie@earthlink.net

    (510) 537-1796 – fax: (510) 537-9675

  • Charlie Peters

    Clean Air Performance Professionals

    Friday, January 29, 2010

    Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger

    State Capitol Building

    Sacramento, CA 95814

    Phone: 916-445-2841

    Fax: 916-558-3160 ( new number )

    C/o Lisa

    RE: Sierra Research Report SR 2007-04-01

    Dear Mr. Governor

    California Air Resources Board (CARB) and The Department of Consumer Affairs/ Bureau of Automotive Repair DCA/BAR have contracted with Sierra Research for a Report of Smog Check performance.

    Sierra has informed me the report was final in March 2009 and released to CARB.

    CARB, BAR, IMRC, and the California Legislature are using the Report for public policy but refusing to release the publicly funded Report.

    Mr. Governor, I’m confused, can you refer me to someone who might help?

    Cc to interested parties

    From: Charlie Peters

    Clean Air Performance Professionals

    cappcharlie@earthlink.net

    (510) 537-1796 – fax: (510) 537-9675

  • Adam

    “There is even polypropylene currency, if you can believe it.”

    Australia has had all polypropylene banknotes since the mid-90s. This is really not an outlandish idea. They’re far superior to paper money, especially in terms of counterfeiting.

  • Adam

    “There is even polypropylene currency, if you can believe it.”

    Australia has had all polypropylene banknotes since the mid-90s. This is really not an outlandish idea. They’re far superior to paper money, especially in terms of counterfeiting.

  • http://www.carpetone.ca Carpet

    I would think that the most difficult part of recycling carpet would be determining what the materials are in it.

  • http://www.carpetone.ca Carpet

    I would think that the most difficult part of recycling carpet would be determining what the materials are in it.

  • Frank Hanlan

    It seems to me that the key in this process is open sourcing the technology so that all of the used carpet does not have to be shipped to one or two factories.

  • Frank Hanlan

    It seems to me that the key in this process is open sourcing the technology so that all of the used carpet does not have to be shipped to one or two factories.

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