Buying Eco-Friendly Carpet

Photo: Ildar Sagdejev/Flickr.

Carpet is cozy, soft underfoot and sound-absorbing, making it a popular choice for flooring in many homes. Unfortunately, it also tends to be hard on the environment and on indoor air quality, off-gassing volatile organic compounds and toxic chemicals. Buying eco-friendly carpet is an easy solution that allows you to retain all the benefits of carpeting without the drawbacks.

When shopping for green carpet, there are a number of factors you should consider. What is the carpet made from? Does it contain any toxic chemicals or volatile organic compounds? Was it responsibly manufactured? Is it recyclable?

Types of Eco-Friendly Carpeting

Eco-friendly carpet comes in virtually all varieties, from area rugs and wall-to-wall installations to customizable carpet tiles. Carpet made from natural, renewable fibers tend to be the most environmentally friendly and include sisal, seagrass, coir, organic cotton, jute, organic wool and bamboo. The materials used to create these carpets are biodegradable and don't require a lot of fertilizer and pesticides to produce.

Recycled carpets are another eco-friendly option. Rather than making carpet from petroleum and other fossil fuels, some carpet manufacturers use both pre- and post-consumer plastics like polyethylene terephthalate (PET) bottles, or industrial scraps. PET carpet, sold under brand names like Resistron and Permalon, is made from 100 percent recycled plastic beverage bottles and can be down-cycled into insulation or furniture stuffing when it wears out.

Avoid Unhealthy Chemicals and Compounds

Natural materials don't guarantee healthy carpet - be sure you're not buying a seemingly eco-friendly carpet that has actually been treated with insect or flame repellents. Conventionally-produced wool can also have a heavy environmental impact due to the pesticide baths used to control parasites on sheep. And some of the worst off-gassing can be caused by a culprit you may not expect: the carpet backing.

When buying eco-friendly carpet backing or pads, look for natural materials like non-synthetic latex, untreated wool or camel hair felt. Carpet backings that are sewn on or glued using natural, non-toxic adhesives are healthier choices than those using adhesives that off-gas VOCs.

Choose Responsible Carpet Companies

How can you tell whether a company is really producing eco-friendly carpet? Look for green carpet certifications like Cradle to Cradle, The Sustainable Carpet Standard (NSF 140), CRI Green Label Plus, BRE Environmental Assessment and Good Environmental Choice (Australia). Each of these certification programs uses different assessment methodology to ensure that the carpet meets environmental criteria like use of healthy materials, energy efficiency, manufacturing emissions, water use and waste.

Many carpet companies not only offer a wide range of eco-friendly options, but also take responsibility to ensure that their manufacturing processes are not harming the planet. Interface, Inc., which produces the popular modular FLOR carpet tiles, has been named among the world's most environmentally friendly businesses for its aggressive progress in sustainability including using recycled materials, reclaiming old carpet, reducing greenhouse gas emissions and coming up with inventive new ways to reuse waste yarn. Other carpet manufacturers with notable eco-friendly policies include Mohawk, Shaw and Beaulieu.

Carpet Take-Back Programs

An important factor to consider when buying eco-friendly carpet is whether the carpet is biodegradable or recyclable. Many manufacturers, including Interface, Mohawk, Shaw, Milliken Carpet, Bentley Prince Street and C&A; offer carpet take-back programs that reclaim commercial or residential carpeting and find ways to reuse it. This may mean turning it into new carpet or down-cycling it into another type of product.

Dyeing Old Carpet

Instead of buying eco-friendly carpet, you could consider having your existing carpet dyed to a new color. A company called Color Your Carpet re-dyes old carpet in the custom color of your choice. Even stained, faded, multi-colored or patterned carpets and rugs can be dyed to match your home decor. While the dyes used are not necessary natural and non-toxic, this service can save a lot of carpet from the landfill.

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