Eco-friendly Carpet

Nov. 16, 2001
Don’t sacrifice quality for sustainability

By Tom Lape

It's no longer enough to design an interior that is attractive, comfortable, and conducive to productivity; furnishings are now held to the higher standard of being environmentally correct. Many of today's contract customers are concerned with the environmental footprint of each product, a complex record including: manufacturing processes and materials; volatile organic compounds (VOC) emissions; the product's typical lifetime; and recycling options for disposal. It's a complicated challenge, but individuals who are willing to do their homework can find carpet that is environmentally sound, as well as aesthetically pleasing.

Face Fibers

Commercial carpet, either woven or tufted, can be made of natural or synthetic fibers. The naturals, including wool, sisal, and jute, are usually produced from renewable resources and are biodegradable. However, they are usually more costly, less durable, and have a greater allergenic dust potential than synthetic fibers. Synthetic fibers include nylon 6; nylon 6,6; polyester; and polypropylene. While all are petroleum products with petroleum's environmental drawbacks, these fibers are generally more economical, more durable, and may offer recycling benefits. Nylon carpet is considered to offer the best combination of affordability, performance, and decreased environmental impact because it is lightweight, extremely durable, easily cleaned, and recyclable.

Construction Qualities

Woven broadloom leaves one of the smallest environmental footprints in the carpet industry because its construction, built of face yarns, filling yarns, and warp threads, is inherently stronger than tufted fabrication, resulting in a life-cycle of approximately 15 years - twice that of a comparative tufted carpet. The cost of woven carpet is about 20- to 25-percent higher than tufted, but the benefits are significant. Not only does the product last twice as long, but also, because woven carpet does not have a backing, it is much easier to recycle. Tufted carpet is made up of face fiber stitched into a primary backing, covered by a secondary backing, which holds the fibers in place and provides stability.

Maintaining Good IAQ

Carpet's role as an emitter of VOCs affecting indoor air quality has received a lot of attention in the past decade. The Carpet and Rug Institute (CRI), Dalton, GA, advises that "with common-sense ventilation, the minimal VOC emissions and the non-hazardous odor from new carpet dissipate within the first 48 to 72 hours after installation." There is a CRI testing program that labels carpet that has met emissions standards. It also tests carpet cushion and adhesives so a package of installed carpet can be specified that will produce minimal emissions.

Recycling Post Consumer Carpet

Keeping old carpet out of landfills is an ongoing concern. So far, nylon carpet offers the best opportunity for economically feasible recycling. "Closed loop" systems are able to recycle used nylon 6 carpet fiber back into nylon with the same qualities as virgin nylon. And there are nylon carpet yarns available that are made, in part, of such recycled nylon, resulting in product that can be reused over and over. Polyester carpet for residential environments can be made from recycled plastic, such as soft drink bottles. Polypropylene, also used primarily in residential applications, is not recyclable.

Tom Lape is senior vice president of sales and marketing at The Mohawk Group (, Atlanta.

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