I work in the building material reuse industry. I research, write, and speak about reclaiming building materials as viable products,
instead of garbage destined for landfills. I am often on the receiving end of frantic correspondence from people who want me to save a beautiful old house that is being demolished, or a garage made of pristine pre WWII wood that is being knocked down. These days I get a lot of contact with all the development racing through Portland. There is very little I can do on short notice, and often all I can offer is a sympathetic ear and some resources for them for next time (and there is always a next time).
I was recently contacted about a material for reuse. The Port of Portland is going to replace the carpet in the entire Portland Airport. This individual wanted to know if I could help her find people who would reuse it. I explained to her that carpet is one of the materials that is hardest to find a new home, mostly because of the wear, and the “ick” factor. It is hard to even find recycling outlets for carpet because of things like the adhesives used in installation. Normally I wouldn’t have given it a thought, but I am an avid participant in the online community Reddit.
The Portland Reddit (Preddit) is active, and as you can imagine, seriously opinionated. Along with a certain generation of folks inquiring about advice for moving to Portland, the carpet at PDX is a regular topic. The posts are full of love for PDX and especially the carpet. There are people who are enamored of the teal and maroon pixilated box design. In true Portland fashion, the color and pattern have been made into designs for t-shirts. There is even a woman with a tattoo of the pixilated maroon box design. I know this because another woman posted on her intention to copy the design, and wanted to know if she should have it done smaller on her shoulder.
In almost a decade of working with reclaimed building materials, the one thing emerges as universal is that people are emotionally connected to materials. I decided to create my own post on Reddit to see if people would want a piece of the actual PDX carpet itself. Among the typical Preddit snarkiness, there emerged a group of interested folks along with a general alarm for the replacement of the carpet. Never underestimate the sentiment between humans and their surroundings. The Portland Airport is a hub of emotional energy; people leaving loved ones, people returning home, peoples anticipation of adventure, and people departing with memories. PDX is awash in feelings, and for the last thirty years the carpet has been literally underfoot absorbing it all.
There is approximately six acres of carpet in the Portland Airport. If we found enough people interested in reusing the parts that are not bio-hazardous, we wouldn’t even make a dent in the scope of this waste. One would hope that it could be recycled, but my contact told me it is glued directly to the concrete. That radically reduces the chances of recycling it. If it doesn’t come up well, it reduces the opportunities for reuse too.
The current generation of creatives are doing well carving a niche for themselves by reusing materials. Projects that have used reclaimed carpets are tiny homes, vehicle conversions, boats, art installations, welcome mats, and animal shelters among others. Harry Eggink, an architecture professor at Ball State University recently commented that his students need to be taught how to design with mass amounts of salvageable materials. He was referring to the acres of airplanes and choppers rotting in the Tucson, Arizona aeronautical boneyard. He stated “This is the kind of project that is of their generation. These are issues that they’re going to be facing.” In my experience, we are facing them now.
Luckily we still have room in our landfills to grind up and pitch six acres of carpet. But a consequence of all that un-recycled material rotting in our landfills is increased co2 emissions, and our climate is reacting accordingly. In Portland we have a generation of people who are emotionally bonded with the carpet in the airport. As weird as that sounds, it’s no weirder than not giving them the chance to do something with it.
Reclamation of the PDX carpet is a big project. It’s more of an event, and needs to be organized like one. Complete with press releases and follow up on the projects that develop from the salvaged material. The first step is to find out if the Portland Reddit is an accurate depiction of the rest of Portland’s love of the PDX carpet.
Portland, are you up for salvaging an iconic, albeit unusual piece of your world? If so will you promise to use it in creative and unique ways which inspire others?