Eco-Friendly Textiles: How New Technologies of Carpet Manufacturing and Recycling are Reshaping the Industry

Said Khakimov
Said Khakimov

The matters of conscious consumption, sustainability, and recycling have never been more crucial. Individuals and companies are striving to find ways of optimizing their activities to make them as environmentally friendly as possible. A growing number of manufacturers are developing products from recycled materials, and consumers are increasingly opting for sustainable choices.

The home textiles industry is also one of those where manufacturers are looking for a more sustainable approach and exploring new recycling technologies. The potential is high, but there is still massive room for improvement in this area. As of 2022, in the US alone, the industry was producing around 12 billion square feet of carpet and rugs per year, and only about 5% was recycled. As estimated by Aquafil, an engineering company, the use of modern technology can result in saving 70,000 barrels of crude oil and avoiding 65,100 tonnes of carbon emissions while recycling 10,000 tonnes of nylon carpet.

Certain textile manufacturing companies are already recycling waste using their own means and transforming the raw materials into new goods. Among these companies is SAG, the leading manufacturer in Uzbekistan and the third-largest carpet producer worldwide.

Said Khakimov, Director of Production, Marketing, and Sales at SAG, tells us that the company has successfully introduced the technology of recycling PET bottles into raw materials for carpet production. PET (polyethylene terephthalate) is a synthetic resin and a form of polyester. The bottles made from this material are commonly used for a wide range of consumer goods — from soft drinks to shampoo. SAG was the first company to introduce this innovation, leading the way not only in the CIS and Asia but also worldwide. After equipment and components were purchased in Germany under Khakimov's supervision, the company launched its own PET bottle collection points and began recycling operations.

The technology involves shredding plastic bottles into flakes, which are further processed into finished yarn. These threads are subsequently used for the production of carpeting. At the moment, the company is producing the base of the carpets from this raw material, but the goal is to make entire products out of recycled bottles.

"After we launched the recycling process, people from different countries came to our factory to see how it works and explore the technology. Nowadays, we no longer have enough volume of plastic in Uzbekistan, so we started processing waste from neighboring countries — Kyrgyzstan, Kazakhstan, and Tajikistan," Said says. Furthermore, he is currently studying other advanced ways of recycling carpets. For instance, one method involves transforming old carpets into raw materials suitable for mattress production through a small-scale processing technique.

The concept of carpet recycling appeals to him as a designer too, particularly because he launched his career in the company's design department 12 years ago. According to Khakimov, out of 100 old carpets sent for recycling, one or two may turn out to be antiques with more than a century's history. Such a carpet, if carefully cleaned and restored, might be a true exclusive gem for connoisseurs and collectors or serve as inspiration for artists creating new carpet designs.

In terms of sustainability, Said considers polyester to be the most promising material for producing carpets, as coverings completely made of this synthetic fiber are the easiest to recycle. Recycling old carpets is extremely challenging due to their varied thread composition, which demands different heating temperatures for processing. The use of polyester emerges as a solution to this problem. "Our company is moving towards replacing both cotton and jute fiber, of which carpets are traditionally made, with polyester. We have already made the switch from cotton to synthetic fiber, with the intention of producing carpets that are entirely polyester-based," Said Khakimov adds.

Earlier, he had already brought to life another crucial innovation for the whole region: with his help, artificial grass appeared in Uzbekistan 10 years ago. The launch of this product on the market has significantly contributed to saving water, the lack of which has historically been a problem in the country. After calculating the water expenses related to natural versus artificial lawns, the company was assured of the potential success of the new product. Thanks to Khakimov's efforts in educating retailers, artificial grass is now widely used and popular across the country and region. "At this moment, the machine producing it is running 24/7 non-stop, and all the goods produced are sold. We are still the only manufacturer of artificial turf in Uzbekistan," Said says. "This is a product that few people believed in, but it ended up being a big success." More than 1,000 artificial sports fields are now covered with the grass produced by the company. It is also used in landscaping all over the country — for multiple outdoor areas, cafes, and restaurants, as well as the large "Eternal City" ethno-park in Samarkand.

The company is currently preparing to launch a new type of product: thin, soft, and compact synthetic carpets that are machine-washable. While being easy to clean and dry, they retain their properties and color after washing. The carpets are manufactured with the help of cutting-edge digital printing technology and a specialized printer for creating the designs. One of the benefits of this technique is its eco-friendliness. According to calculations made by researchers from the Tajik Technical University named after Academician M. Osimi, using digital printing to apply designs and patterns can minimize carbon dioxide emissions by 95%, reduce electricity consumption by 57%, and water consumption by 62% compared to analog equipment.

These carpets have been introduced globally in the past year, primarily manufactured in China. In the United States, the product has already gained popularity, partly due to the high cost of carpet cleaning services and Americans' habit of wearing shoes indoors. There are no machine-washable carpets available in Uzbekistan's market yet, and Said intends to travel to China to research the technology and purchase equipment. This will enable SAG to reclaim its position as an innovator and be the first producer of this type of carpeting in the country.