Now that the Oscars are behind us, it’s time to turn our attention to the red carpet that stars such as Brad Pitt and Regina King graced last night. Some celebrities hopped on the sustainability trend and sported recycled looks—Jane Fonda wore a 6-year-old gown, and Elizabeth Banks pulled a look from 2004. Still, there’s one enormous textile that reportedly won’t be reused: the red carpet.
Yesterday’s Oscars employed a 50,000-square-foot carpet that’s always scrapped after the show, The Los Angeles Times reported in 2017. Next year, they’ll presumably roll out a brand-new material to sprawl out beneath all those famous feet for one night only. (The flooring company, Signature Systems Group, declined to comment to Popular Science.)
Signature Systems Group has served the Oscars since 2008, according to the Times, providing about 30 rolls of the signature Academy Red fabric each year. The carpet requires almost 900 hours of manpower to install before showtime, with the crew ensuring a wrinkle-free service to prevent celebrity slippage.
Single use of a carpet or other textile isn’t sustainable, says Timo Rissanen, an associate professor of fashion design and sustainability at the Parsons School of Design.
Meanwhile, other major awards shows have stepped up to reduce carpet waste. Last month, the Hollywood Foreign Press Association said they’d reuse the 2020 Golden Globes red carpet at other events.
At the 2018 CFDA Awards—that’s the Council of Fashion Designers of America—attendees strode on an entirely recycled carpet: Italian-based company Aquafil took ocean and landfill waste like fishing nets and fabric scraps and transformed it all into nylon. Every 10,000 tons of their signature material supposedly saves 70,000 barrels of crude oil.
“After the ceremony, the intention is to reuse it,” Aquafil CEO Giulio Bonazzi told Yahoo. “To walk on it for just a few hours and not repurpose the product does not make sense, ethically.”
Indeed, Rissanen, of Parsons, notes that not reusing materials like this, even if they were originally made from recycled content, is still problematic: The process of recycling synthetic fibers can still be resource-intensive, plus they’re produced from non-renewable petroleum sources in the first place.
After the CFDA awards, the team reuses the carpet pieces in good condition and sends the worn-out parts to Aquafil’s carpet recycling plant in Phoenix, Arizona.
Many home textile and carpet manufacturers have taken initiative to reduce waste and recycle more, says Margaret Bishop, a textile specialist at the Fashion Institute of Technology and Parsons School of Design. She’s recently observed primary textile manufacturers carefully identify and reduce sources of waste during the manufacturing process, and conduct intensive research into new sustainable fibers.
In California landfills, carpet from both residential and commercial buildings counts among the 10 most prevalent waste materials. The state-wide Carpet Stewardship Program aims to turn discarded carpets into new items; for example, old carpet fibers can form artificial “hay” blocks to prevent soil erosion.
Still, there’s plenty of room and tremendous need for industry professionals and consumers to further reduce textile waste, Bishop says. And special events like annual awards shows seem to fit into a unique, highly public category, which could set a future example for sustainability efforts.
“As for the Oscars carpet being destroyed each year, it is simply unacceptable but perhaps underlines–quite literally–the irrelevance of the red carpet phenomenon in the context of a climate emergency,” Rissanen says.