Recycled-Content Carpet Options

04/24/2009 by Andrea Sillah

According to the Carpet and Rug Institute, carpeting covers 70% of all floors in homes, offices, and commercial spaces in the United States. Here are some selection considerations for “green” carpeting.

Opt for carpeting made with recycled content when possible. Using recycled plastic to make carpet fibers is better for the environment than using virgin materials. Recycling helps reduce landfill wastes and puts a waste product produced in massive quantities to good use. According to one estimate, approximately 40 two-liter soda bottles are used to produce one square yard of carpet.

The production of recycled carpet also results in lower emissions than manufacturing conventional carpet. Moreover, some manufacturers have implemented progressive environmental policies at their plants to recycle and reduce waste, pollution, and energy use. They’ve also redesigned products to eliminate hazardous materials and have replaced many solvent-based materials with water-based alternatives.

Recycled-content carpeting is widely available in many colors and weaves. It looks, feels, and is priced the same as high-quality carpet manufactured from virgin materials (typically polyester, nylon, and olefin).

According to manufacturers, recycled carpet has great colorfastness, resilience, and stain-resistance. It also comes with the same warranties offered for virgin-fiber carpeting (covering colorfastness, static control, and resistance to stains, crushing, and matting).

Although recycled-content carpeting is greener than most conventional carpet, carpet backings may be made from a type of plastic (styrene butadiene, known as SB latex) that contains several potentially toxic chemicals. These can be “outgassed” or released into the air. Find out from manufacturers what is in their backing and padding materials. Several companies state that their backings contain no toxic ingredients such as CFCs, latex, formaldehyde, PCBs or mercury.

Green Carpet Pad

In residential applications, carpets are typically installed over carpet pad to provide additional cushion or “bounce.” Green carpet pads are made from an assortment of natural and recycled materials. Natural materials include animal hair and jute, and many contain no glues, dyes, or chemical treatments. Options are available made of recycled PET plastic, post-industrial waste wool, recycled rubber, and polyurethane foam.

Dan Chiras, Ph.D., author of this article, is Director of The Evergreen Institute and President of the consulting firm, Sustainable Systems Design, Inc. Dan is the author of Green Home Improvement, from which this article is excerpted, and 23 other books on green building, residential renewable energy, and sustainability.