The manufacture and disposal of carpet and other flooring materials has been affected by a number of changes in legislation in recent years, some from the United Kingdom and others from Europe. The legislation that has been bought to bear should boost interest in sustainable flooring in two ways; firstly keeping harmful elements out of flooring in the first place and secondly making reuse or recycling of flooring easier than throwing it in landfill sites.
Environmental Impact of Flooring
The focus on sustainable living that we are seeing today is often about keeping products out of landfill. In the United Kingdom, space for landfill is running out, we have one of the highest population densities in Europe, and flooring makes a bigger impact on sustainability than we think.
The Building and Research Establishment in the UK, which provides advice to the building industry on sustainable materials and methods, reckons that a typical office flooring contributes as much as a third of the environmental impact over a sixty year period.
This assumes that the flooring is replaced every five years and is a nylon and wool blend with backing made of foam. Of course in a domestic situation the carpet would not be replaced so often but still the impact is higher than we expect.
Legislation Aimed at Flooring Manufacture
Since the end of the last century proposals have inched their way toward legislation in the European parliament which would effectively outlaw the use of PVC in carpets and vinyl sheet flooring and tiles. Legislation is largely aimed at the noxious chemicals (mainly dioxins) that are produced during manufacture, rather than those leached into our homes throughout the life of the product.
But many researchers are just as concerned about that second threat, with plasticisers in vinyl flooring and pesticides used to contain the spread of dust mites in carpet the main worries. Researchers believe (but haven’t yet proved) that these are both factors in the rise of childhood asthma.
Flooring Disposal Legislation
The second area of legislation tackles the disposal of carpet and other flooring. In 1996 the UK government started to raise taxes on commercial waste taken to landfill and the charges have steadily risen since. The government currently intends that by 2012 these taxes will make landfill disposal too expensive for companies to use, although it should be noted that one alternative, incineration, releases those dioxins from the flooring into the air.
The landfill taxes have led to three changes in the way carpet and other flooring is disposed of in the UK. Firstly the amount of fly tipping has increased. Secondly the cost of new flooring has gone up as installers and contractors pass on the cost to their customers.
But thirdly, and most encouragingly, there is now a realisation within the flooring industry and among consumers that we need to think about the disposal of flooring, particularly non-natural products such as plastics-based vinyl and carpet. The few facilities that currently exist in the UK to recycle or repurpose carpet and other flooring are all reporting increased volumes.
Sustainable Flooring is the Way Forward
The two-pronged attack on noxious chemicals at the beginning and the end of the flooring life cycle will hopefully combine to make consumers and manufacturers alike increase their use of sustainable flooring.