Investors ask Mohawk, Interface, and Shaw to deliver on strong recycling goals


More than 30 institutional investors with combined assets of $50 billion are asking three leading U.S. carpet manufacturers to make good on previous promises to recycle a substantial amount of discarded carpet. A letter from As You Sow on behalf of 33 investor firms and groups asks Mohawk Industries, Interface Inc., and Shaw Industries Group to redesign carpet to make it more recyclable and to develop meaningful recycling goals.

In 2002, the carpet industry pledged to recycle 20–25% of carpet in the U.S. by 2012, but they appear to have fallen far short of that goal. About 91% (4 billion pounds) of carpet is still discarded in landfills. Just 5% is recycled in some form, and only 1% is made back into carpet. Another 4% of carpet is incinerated, which wastes resources and raises toxicity concerns.

California is the only state requiring carpet makers to recycle a significant amount of carpet and the industry has not done a great job so far. In April 2017, CalRecycle, the state’s recycling agency issued a finding that the industry-run carpet recycling program had failed to achieve “continuous and meaningful improvement” in rates of recycling of postconsumer carpet as required by the program. The program has raised tens of millions of dollars from consumer fees on carpet sales and set a goal of 16% recycling by 2016. Instead, the rate fell from 12% to 10% in 2015. CalRecycle rejected the industry’s latest program plans and has proposed $3 million in fines. Outside of California, the industry has no apparent national or state recycling goals.

As You Sow is calling upon the three carpet manufacturing leaders to work with industry peers to redesign carpet wherever possible to make it more recyclable, develop strong and enforceable national recycling goals, help develop end markets for discarded carpet, and take at least shared financial responsibility to implement these actions.

To its credit, Interface Inc. supported recent legislation in California strengthening the state’s carpet recycling program. AB 1158, which became law in September, sets a mandated recycling rate of 24 percent by 2020, opens the industry-run recycling program (known as Carpet America Recovery Effort) to stakeholder review by an advisory committee, and bars use of recycling fees collected from the public for incineration, paying penalties, or suing the state. Mohawk and Shaw opposed the legislation.

Investors asked the brands to aspire to closed loop carpet-to-carpet recycling whenever possible, minimize down cycling of post-consumer carpet materials, and bar incineration. At a minimum, the industry needs to find a way to meet the pledge it made 15 years ago to recycle 25% of carpet, the letter said. As You Sow and its investor allies plan to develop dialogues on these issues with the three brands in the coming months.