Along with the many benefits of carpet come a number of environmental considerations—including issues of material use, production wastes, indoor air quality, and ultimately, carpet disposal. The disposal issues surrounding used carpet are of concern because of carpet's relatively significant contribution to the nation's waste stream and the inherent difficulties with its recycling. According to carpet industry estimates, approximately 3.8 billion pounds of carpet were discarded in the United States in 2011. Most years, carpet accounts for over 1 percent of all municipal solid waste by weight, or about 2 percent by volume. The bulky nature of carpet and the variety of materials used in its manufacture often create handling, collection, and recycling problems for local and state governments.
The carpet industry has been increasingly involved in developing solutions to these issues. In January 2002, carpet and fiber manufacturers signed the National Carpet Recycling Agreement, along with the Carpet and Rug Institute, state governments, non-governmental organizations, and the U.S. EPA. This voluntary agreement established a 10-year schedule to increase the amount of recycling and reuse of post-consumer carpet and reduce the amount of waste carpet going to landfills. The agreement set a national goal of diverting 40 percent of end-of-life carpet from landfill disposal by 2012.
According to industry estimates, only 7 percent of total carpet discards were recycled in the United States in 2011, up from 1 percent in 2002. Carpet America Recovery Effort, a nationwide group of government and industry officials working to increase landfill diversion and recycling of post-consumer carpet, projects a 12 percent recycling rate and 20 percent total landfill diversion rate for carpet in 2016. Barriers to effective recycling of carpet include the lack of an established infrastructure for collection and processing of discarded carpet, especially from residential sources. In addition, carpet manufacturers and recyclers have been concentrated in the southeastern United States, resulting in logistical issues for carpet recycling in other parts of the country. Inadequate markets for some resins, such as nylon 6,6, are a concern as well.