New Formula for Carpeting Eliminates Latex, Makes It Biodegradable

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Carpeting may be something we give little thought to, but the ubiquitous floor covering is actually a serious environmental problem. Not only are toxic chemicals often used in the making of most carpeting, they are usually carted off to landfills or incinerated rather than recycled at the end of their useful life. However, researchers at UPC's Terrassa Campus have come up with an eco-friendly solution. UPC reports that Tzanko Tzanov, a researcher with the Molecular and Industrial Biotechnology Group at the Universitat Politècnica de Catalunya, BarcelonaTech's Terrassa Campus, has come up with an alternative way to produce carpeting that is lighter (which means fewer emissions during shipping), biodegradable, and 100% recyclable. In fact, the method for recycling them is really just to toss them on the compost pile since they can be used as fertilizer for plants.

According to UPC, the team focused on eliminating latex, a heavy and expensive component of carpeting accounting for as much as 70% of carpeting's weight. Instead, the team figured out how to use enzymes in the production process:

The innovative system they developed starts with a thorough check of the wool used, which comes from New Zealand sheep that graze on organic pastures free of pesticides and heavy metals. When the wool reaches the production facility, it undergoes an enzyme-based pre-treatment process that cleans the material and removes all the impurities found in raw wool.
After the wool is spun and cross-linked to the carpet base, the backing is impregnated with a paste made of natural phenolic compounds and oxidative enzymes that polymerise the paste. This process produces a powerful adhesive that creates the platform to which the fibres are attached. The wool is bound in a more compact, durable way, yielding a product that beats durability standards for carpets made using conventional systems by two points.

This method of production uses half the energy of conventional treatment, since it is accomplished at far lower temperatures than what latex requires. Not only does it use far less energy in production, but also in recycling. Most carpeting has to be incinerated (or dumped in landfill) which requires a lot of energy, but this new carpeting can simply be shredded and used for fertilizer for plants.

UPC states, "Carpet production is a large-scale activity. In Europe 700 million square metres of carpeting is produced each year, 55 million square metres of which is with latex backing. In the United States, the production volume is ten times higher."

That means there's a serious need, and probably a big market in the green building and design areas, for this more earth-friendly carpeting. The number one question left is the length of the useful lifespan of this new. If it doesn't last nearly as long as conventional carpeting, then the environmental benefits might not be quite as impressive.

Still, the progress made so far seems impressive. And, as Gizmag notes, "Presumably, naturally-sourced dyes could be used to add color to the carpets," making them that much more eco-friendly.