The recycling of textile floor coverings is on the agenda for almost 10 years not only for the industry but also for the regulative authorities. Already in 1993 the carpet industry represented by GUT and its members agreed in the so called "Vaals Declaration" that the development of concepts for economical and ecological viable disposal and recycling systems for textile floor coverings would be an important task for the industry.
At that time it was already stated that landfill of carpet waste under ecological criteria is one of the worst solutions. If landfill is not an option for the future methods and strategies for the recycling of post consumer carpet waste as well as production waste has to be developed. After the "Vaals Declaration" had been published within the carpet industry and the suppliers industry a discussion started to find out, whether an intelligent combination of materials could support recycling processes. Besides the discussion on heavy metals and other materials, filler-free (chalk) and 100 % polyamide carpets were suggested. But taking into account the interests of the different industry groups like fibre and dyestuff producers it could clearly be estimated that proposals like a "Filler Free 100% Polyamide Carpet" would directly lead to conflicts. Nothing the despite such suggestions were seriously discussed for some time.
Therefore GUT decided to co-ordinate its activities with the European organisations of the suppliers industry like EATP, CIRFS, EPDLA and ETAD. Besides the problem of choosing the right materials for "recyclable carpets" questions of logistics and transportation had to be solved. When looking at the European carpet market one has to realise that different types of carpet are produced and sold in different markets. In the end a specific type of carpet produced somewhere in Belgium, after its lifetime, will be found in household waste either in Southern Germany or in Middle England in pieces may be not larger than a few square meters. This means that the big challenge we have to face is fighting against a thermodynamic principle, which can be expressed in three simple words: "Entropy Always Wins!"
Realising this, the collection, identification and separation of carpet waste into well-defined raw materials becomes the crucial part in the whole discussion on carpet recycling. This situation at that time was one of the basic arguments of those who preferred a direct incineration of carpet waste in municipal waste incineration plants, whereas others stated that carpets could lead to higher and harmful emissions from these incineration plants and therefore other ways than incineration had to be found.
After the "Vaals Declaration" was published, there were still more questions than answers. Nevertheless this was the initiation of a number of national and international research projects dealing with carpet recycling in the one or the other way. The results and the consequences of these research projects on actual and future carpet recycling strategies are summarised in the following paragraphs.
Incineration of Carpet Waste
In the early 90's waste incineration, mainly for political reasons, was not regarded as an ecological or environmental friendly alternative to landfill. Even incineration under energy recovery aspects, for a long time, was not accepted by the regulative bodies. There was no information available on the environmental influence of carpets burned in municipal waste incineration plants. What is the fate of heavy metals from dyes? Does polyamide lead to higher NO-emissions? Are dioxins formed and emitted? Do ashes contain harmful substances? These were questions without answers, and only industry statements were available, not accepted by the authorities or by NGO like Greenpeace. Therefore GUT decided to investigate the environmental fate of incinerated carpets.