Shaw Industries made a commitment to cradle-to-cradle principles when it released its Ecoworx backing for modular carpet tile, a product that could be split from the nylon face fiber at a tile’s end of life and recycled into new backing. But when the company tried to apply the same technology to its broadloom carpets, it realized that the system simply did not translate. So the company’s materials engineers set to work creating a new system, one that dissolves the carpet into its original components.

The process involves shredding the carpet and immersing the pieces in a bio-based solution. The nylon face fibers detach and can be turned into caprolactum, which is the base for new nylon fibers. The solution-covered backing pieces are then heated; the solution evaporates and is reconstituted elsewhere, ready to be used again in the dissolution of more carpet. The backing pieces are then ready to be used to create new Ecoworx backing for new broadloom carpet. The ingenuity of the process intrigued the jury—“I was really impressed that they had the whole system worked out,” Craig Hodgetts said. “They have the chemistry going for them.”

The final element that had to be engineered was the carpet’s durability. The face fiber is made from fleece, which wears out quickly, so the engineers created a woven outer reinforcing layer and a special adhesive to extend the carpet’s life. Even so, John Ronan pointed out, “Carpet is a very limited life material. So, I think it makes it more important that you recycle it and how you recycle it.” But recycling only works if the carpet is returned to Shaw, and it is up to architects and contractors to do that.

Shaw Industries' Ecoworx team
Shaw Industries' Ecoworx team

Ecoworx Backing for Broadloom Carpet

Manufacturer Shaw Industries, Dalton, Ga.—Jeff Wright (senior chemist, technical development); Rick Farrar, Joey Davis, Scott Urquhart (technicians, technical development); Kellie Ballew (sustainable development engineer); Zach Breedlove (backings development engineer); Jeff Segars (technical director)