Carpets can be made from natural fibres or synthetic fibres, or a combination of both. One is not necessarily better than the other. It is important to look at the entire life of the carpet before forming an opinion on its impact on the environment.
Carpets that use at least some recycled material are preferable because they minimise use of resources. This also provides a market for recycled product and hence encourages recycling (and minimises landfill). For example, foam recovered from mattresses can be used for carpet underlay.
If carpet is made from wool one of the issues that needs to be considered is the treatment of effluent from wool scouring operations, to ensure that the pollution is not discharged to waterways. If synthetic fibre is used air pollution may be a greater consideration and systems need to be in place to prevent the release of oxides of sulphur and nitrogen to the atmosphere. Foam used for carpet backing must not be manufactured using ozone depleting chemicals.
When choosing a carpet it is obviously important to choose one that is suitable for the task. A carpet that needs to be replaced after two years is unlikely to be a good environmental choice, even if the materials used have minimised their impact on the environment. So it is important for the carpet to have an appropriate warranty and be made of materials that are suitable for cleaning.
Volatile organic compounds (VOCs) that remain in the carpet after manufacture may continue to be released once the carpet is installed. This can reduce indoor air quality, so choose a carpet with low VOC levels. It is also important that the dyes that have been used have not been categorised by the International Agency for Research on Cancer as causing cancer or birth defects.
Carpet end-of-life can have a major impact on the environment if the carpet goes to landfill. Two things are important to prevent this. The backing must be able to be separated from the carpet, to allow recycling of both, and the manufacturer or retailer must have in place arrangements for the recycling.
GECA’s standard for carpets looks at all these issues, and many more, to make it easy for you to choose a green carpet, without the need to become a technical expert.
See GECA’s Carpets standard.