Green Carpets

Is it possible to choose carpet as flooring and still be environmentally-responsible? Is there such a thing as a “green carpet”? This is a controversial issue that has been debated at length. For some there is confusion over what actually constitutes a “green” carpet. A lot obviously depends on the material it is made from – but even among carpets made of the same material, there can be a great variation in the “green” status depending on how the carpet is installed, what it is treated with and even how it is cleaned.

Conventional Carpets

There is very little doubt that conventional synthetic carpets are very bad for you and the environment. These carpets consist of fibres that are generally made up of synthetic petroleum compounds such as acrylic, nylon, polyester and poluypropyelen and furthermore, they are usually backed by synthetic materials such as polyvinyl chloride (PVC), polyurethane or synthetic SB latex. All of these ingredients are non-sustainable, as well as involving significant energy consumption and pollution in their production. In addition, their synthetic “durability” means that they do no decompose or biodegrade, so that they remain in landfill sites, releasing further toxins into the environment, for decades to come.

Synthetic carpets may also be harmful to you and your family’s health, as well as that of the environment. For example, over 90% of conventional carpets use SB latex which contains a toxin called styrene which may well be carcinogenic. Similarly, PVC has often been the subject of health controversies and in fact, several of its components are now being banned from children’s toys in Europe.

Even if the fibres and backing materials do not contain a specific suspected toxin, the fact that these carpets are often heavily treated with fungicides, fire retardants, dyes, stainproofing and anti-static measures means that they may be continually giving off fumes of volatile organic compounds (VOC’s)and other potentially harmful chemicals. Furthermore, conventional carpet installation involves the use of adhesives which are usually full of these harsh chemicals and VOC’s again.

Some have suggested that by installing modular carpet tiles instead of floor-to-floor carpeting, this will present less of a negative impact on the environment as small sections can be replaced as opposed to the entire sheet. However, it must be noted that while this is an improvement, it is still not solving the problems of environmental sustainability and pollution.

Some “Green Carpet” Options

With a bit of research and planning, as well as perhaps a slightly greater financial investment, it is possible to have a “green carpet”.

Recycled Carpet – these carpets are made up of recycled material such as plastic, wool, cotton, nylon and even other used carpet. And some manufacturers can even reclaim a recycled carpet at the end of its lifecycle by recycling it again into a renewed material. Furthermore, even carpet backing or carpet pads can be made from recycled materials, such as recycled nylon. Coupled with eco-friendly installation options, such as tacking the padding down instead of using glue, these recycled backings will help to maintain the “green” status of your recycled carpet.

Wool Carpet – this is the sustainable, 100% biodegradable choice and it is superior in performance to synthetic carpets in many ways. This includes its durability, stain-resistance, richness of texture and plushness and its many natural advantages such as fire resistance and anti-static – which means that it does not have to be treated with as many chemicals. It does have some vulnerabilities – namely to mildew and moths – and there has been some criticism of the treatments applied for these but it is possible to buy untreated carpets. Wool carpets which have jute backing, only use natural dyes, are installed without adhesives and cleaned with plant-based cleaners are the best eco-friendly option.

Plant Fibre Carpets – these completely ‘natural’ carpets involve the use of plant fibres from various species which can be sustainably grown and harvested, and which will be 100% biodegradable when eventually disposed of. The most commonly used and well-known is sisal, which is made from the leaves of a plant that grows in the deserts of Africa and Latin America. Other plant fibre coverings include seagrass, jute and coir (from coconut husks). These are all easy to clean and maintain, provide good sound insulation, do not harbour allergens, are naturally anti-static and extremely durable, as well as providing a uniquely beautiful natural look. However, they cannot replicate that “plush” carpet feeling and while soft underfoot, they can be uncomfortable to sit on for long periods. They are also vulnerable to moisture so may be unsuitable for certain rooms in the house.

All of these “green carpet” options are generally more expensive than standard synthetic carpet but when you consider the cost to your health and to the environment, it may well be worth the extra investment.