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Nithin Coca headshot

First 100 Percent Recyclable Carpet: A Sign of Hope In a Wasteful Industry

By Nithin Coca

Mohawk's new Airo line is the first to meet the long-stated, lofty recycling goals of one of America's most wasteful industries. Whether it will herald a shift toward a circular economy for carpets, though, remains to be seen.

At a glance, this seems big. Mohawk is the second largest carpet manufacturer in the United States, and its introduction of a fully-recyclable line of carpets seems like a big step in the right direction.

And in many ways, it is. The product seems well-designed. The Airo Carpets are 100 percent recyclable because, unlike most carpets -- which are made from a mix of materials that are difficult to break apart, as is necessary for most industrial recycling systems -- they are made of only polyester. It is a big change for an industry that, until now, touted products made of recycled materials that themselves could not be recycled.

Still, it's 2017. If you're surprised that there hasn't yet been a recyclable carpet yet, you should be. The carpet industry has positioned itself as green and eco-friendly for years -- even forming a organization, the Carpet America Recovery Effort, to facilitate carpet recycling. But for the most part, it was just show, as more than 3.5 billion pounds of carpet ends up in landfills each year.

Late last year, a report released by Changing Markets and GAIA found rampant greenwashing in the carpet industry. They also documented lobbying efforts against mandatory recycling efforts in states across the country.

“The industry set its own goal for recycling, but their efforts to meet their goal were weak and instead of increasing recycling rates, they have more than doubled incineration,” Miriam Gordon of GAIA said in a press statement.

Mohawk was just as much a part of this as its competitors, which is why many are skeptical of the Airo line. While it is a well-designed, recyclable product, does its introduction mean that Mohawk will provide free pick-up services for old carpets? Will it help ensure that recycling plants can profitably process these carpets?

Without investments in a circular economy infrastructure, Airo carpets will end up where all of Mohawk's other, less recyclable carpets do – in landfills. Eco-friendly design is, often, not enough.

While the Airo Line is a step in the right direction, it remains to be seen whether this is truly a sign of change in a dirty industry, or just the latest in greenwash marketing aimed at selling products with no intention of creating a circular economy in the carpet industry.

Image credit: Koala Park Laundromat via pixabay

Nithin Coca headshot

Nithin Coca is a freelance journalist who focuses on environmental, social, and economic issues around the world, with specific expertise in Southeast Asia.

Read more stories by Nithin Coca