Identifying Greener Carpet
Carpet absorbs sound, is soft, slip-resistant and often quite beautiful. These qualities make it a common choice as a floor covering for homes and office spaces alike. But, as with any product, various impacts can occur throughout a carpet’s life cycle. Health and environmental concerns associated with carpet include indoor air quality, chemical emissions from manufacturing and disposal operations and solid waste impacts.
Over four billion pounds of carpet enter the solid waste stream in the United States every year, accounting for more than one percent by weight and about two percent by volume of all municipal solid waste (MSW).
Furthermore, the bulky nature of carpet creates collection and handling problems for solid waste operations and the variety of materials present in carpet makes it difficult to recycle. By considering a variety of attributes, from the Guides for the Use of Environmental Marketing Claims materials used to manufacture and install carpet to recycling and disposal issues, purchasers can make informed decisions about environmentally preferable carpet. This webpage provides some resources to help you choose a safer and greener option.
- Low or no volatile organic compounds (VOC's)
- Safer dyes, backing and adhesives
- End-of-Life take back programs from the manufacturer
Environmentally preferable carpet choices each have their own merits and choosing one depends on the specific need, location and use for the carpet. Some questions to consider in determining the best choice for your situation include:
What are the durability requirements?
In general, more durable products reduce environmental impacts because of the less frequent need for replacement. It is important to anticipate the expected use pattern and replacement schedule in order to make the best environmental purchase. For example, a highly durable carpet may not be the best choice for a temporary space with light use or where near-term replacement is expected because of a change in tenants, building renovations, or other factors.
What are the proper installation and maintenance procedures?
Follow the manufacturer's instructions for installation. Industry-recommended standards for carpet installation (CRI 104 for commercial carpet and CRI 105 for residential carpet) are available from the Carpet and Rug (CRI) website.
Choose low-emitting adhesives. Make sure that you select a carpet suitable for the routine cleaning and maintenance procedures in the area where it will be used. Be sure to follow good cleaning practices as recommended by the manufacturer or other reliable sources. CRI's Green Label vacuum cleaner testing program includes a list of vacuum cleaners meeting the Green Label standards for soil removal, dust containment and carpet appearance retention. This list is available on CRI's Web site.
Tiles or broadloom?
Tiles (modular carpet) use more material initially because of the need for a thicker backing. However, depending on the use pattern, tiles can save materials in the long run because worn or soiled tiles can be replaced individually rather than replacing the entire carpet. Because tiles are available in much smaller sizes than broadloom carpet, tiles are ideal for installation over access flooring and can reduce the material wasted due to trimming in some installations, e.g. in spaces with unusual dimensions.
Are reuse options available?
At least one manufacturer offers refurbished products made from used carpet that look and perform like new carpet. This reuse option creates a product that has 100 percent postconsumer content.
What is the recycled content of the carpet face fiber, backing and cushion?
Although recycled content is not the only factor to consider when buying carpet, doing so ensures that a demand exists in the marketplace for these products. In response to that demand, manufacturers must seek a continuous supply of recovered materials (e.g., recycled carpet) in order to manufacture the products. This cycle creates a demand for recycled carpet and materials, which reduces landfill space as well as natural resource, energy and environmental impacts associated with extracting, transporting and manufacturing virgin, petrochemical-based raw materials.
Although processes exist for manufacturing both nylon 6 and nylon 6,6 from recovered materials, the supply of postconsumer recovered nylon suitable for use in carpet face fiber has been relatively limited due to technical and economic hurdles. Materials used in carpet backing and cushion can come from both postindustrial and postconsumer sources.
Be sure to obtain specific information on the recycled content of carpet products, including a break-out of the overall postindustrial and postconsumer content. Also establish the recycled content percentages of each carpet component (i.e., face fiber and backings). The Carpet and Rug Institute recommends that recycled content be stated as a percentage based on total product weight.
Federal purchasers and others using appropriated federal funds should consult the following regarding recovered materials requirements for carpet:
- Comprehensive Procurement Guidelines (CPG) for Carpet Cushions
- Comprehensive Procurement Guidelines for Carpet
Ask manufacturers for certification on environmental claims.
Certain independent organizations provide testing and auditing services related to environmental standards and other environmental claims, such as recycled content and emissions data. In the absence of independent certification, ask for formal statements signed by senior company officials.
Is there a mechanism for reusing or recycling some or all of the carpet components?
The Carpet America Recovery Effort can provide information and advice on recycling and other end-of-life options. Ensure that recycling operations are currently established and operational and not based on future expectation. Specify your recovery-recycling requirements in the purchase contract -- this ensures that end-of-life issues are addressed and incorporates lifetime cost into the purchase price. Waiting to address end-of-life issues until the need arises can result in more limited options and higher costs.
What are the chemical emissions and other impacts from the manufacture of carpet?
The carpet industry as a whole has made substantial progress in recent years in reducing chemical emissions, energy usage and water usage associated with manufacturing processes. Ask manufacturers to provide information on their specific efforts and accomplishments in this area.
- GSA's Green Procurement Compilation (GPC) is a comprehensive green purchasing resource designed for federal contracting personnel and program managers.
- King County, Washington: Sustainable Purchasing Guide—Carpet