Carpeting has been a popular floor covering for years because it feels good underfoot, insulates and improves a room's acoustics. From the beginning of the green movement, carpet manufacturers have been at the front lines proclaiming the sustainable characteristics of their product. However, others believe that carpet isn't so eco-friendly. Carpet has consequently received a bad rap, and not just because it went out of style aesthetically. I dispel—and confirm—the myths and the facts when it comes to "green" carpet.
Myth: Carpet can't be recycled easily.
Fact: It's true, synthetic carpets often end up in a landfill. However, carpeting made from recycled materials and natural sources—such as plastic soda bottles, wood, cotton and old carpet or plant fibers like sisal, which are made from the agave plant (tequila, anyone?), jute or seagrass—are a much greener option. Many manufacturers participate in recycling programs, such as the Carpet and Rug Institute's CARE program. Before you purchase, check with your manufacturer to be sure they maintain eco-friendly practices.
Myth: Carpet wears out too quickly.
Fact: Most of the time, you get what you pay for. Higher quality carpets will last longer than their cheap counterparts, and it's very important to choose the type of carpet appropriate for the level of traffic in your home. The way you care for it also directly affects its durability, so not only should you vacuum regularly, but you should also have your carpet professionally cleaned at least once every year or two.
Myth: Carpet exacerbates allergies and releases harmful chemicals into the air.
Fact: Carpet actually traps allergens that would have otherwise been circulating through indoor air. However, thinking about all those trapped particles may not necessarily make you breathe easier! That's why it's important to vacuum often (once or twice a week) and ideally with a HEPA filter.
Like paint, carpet can emit volatile organic compounds (VOCs), so look for carpets that comply with the industry's highest VOC standard, the Green Label Plus program administered by the Carpet & Rug Institute.
Myth: Carpet is made from petroleum-based products.
Fact: This is true for some carpets, including those made from synthetic materials such as acrylic, nylon, and polyester and are backed with latex, polyvinyl chloride (PVC) or polyurethane. Instead, look for carpets made from the previously mentioned natural or recycled materials. But keep in mind that ultimately, it takes a lot of energy and resources to produce carpet, so even the "green" versions can be taxing on the environment. But then again, what building products aren't?
Before you make a decision on carpet, have you considered..
...the backing material. Is it recyclable, too?
...the adhesives. Carpet adhesives are big culprits when it comes to VOCs. Make sure your installer uses one that is approved by the Green Label Plus program.
...the shipping/manufacturing location. The closer, the better.
...modular tiles over rolls. Tiles are much easier to replace than ripping out all of the carpet in a room. They can be pretty stylish, too.
Keep in mind that it's never a good idea to make across-the-board assumptions when it comes to carpets and other building materials. All carpets are not created equal. Some types are quite sustainable, while others are very far from it. While wood floors have been the most sought-after flooring type in recent years, don't completely rule out carpeting. You'd might be pleasantly surprised at all of the options available in terms of colors, texture and patterns. On top of that, carpet can be very affordable, and as long as you do your research, it can be pretty green, too.
Green Carpet Manufacturers
Check out these manufacturers, a sampling of those who produce sustainable carpets:
- Atlas Carpet
- Bentley Carpet Mills
- Interface Americas
- Mohawk Industries
- Shaw Industries