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Carpets (synthetic)

Navigation: Minimum Sustainable Recommendations | What are the Issues? | What are the Options? | PDF version 

Did you know... Every year more than 6.5 billion pounds of carpet is dumped into our landfills in North America (Aspera Recycling.)

Minimum Sustainable Recommendations

When requesting commercial modular (tile) and non-modular textile carpet use the following minimum specifications:

  • Greater than 20% recovered material content (fiber and backing), preferably as post-consumer recycled content
  • Synthetic fiber should be solution dyed
  • Adhesive must be CRI Green Label Plus certified
  • Cushion/underlay must meet CRI Green Label Plus program requirements (contain greater than 20% post-consumer post-industrial waste content and be 100% recyclable)
  • Carpet must be CRI Green Label certified
  • Request the manufacture have a take-back program to ensure the replaced carpet and underlay will be reused or recycled by the manufacturer

When carpet is selected for a project seeking a green building certification such as LEED, it must meet the requirements set out in the rating system criteria.

Request vendor to supply carpet supporting accessibility features, including the following:

  • ensure carpet meets the guidelines set forth in the ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act):
    • static coefficient of friction of 0.5 to enhance slip resistance for accessible routes
    • combined carpet and pad height does not exceed 13mm to reduce roll resistance for wheeled mobility aids (also endorsed by CRI)
  • ensure it is a low-level loop or level cut / uncut pile
  • ensure carpet pattern is not disruptive, confusing nor heavily patterned, so floor surface design cannot be misinterpreted as level changes  by people with vision and balance impairments

 

What are the issues?

The environmental considerations associated with synthetic carpet purchase include indoor air quality, material resource use, waste management and durability.

Carpet is often made using synthetic fibers, such as nylon, which is produced from petroleum products. The petrochemical processes for synthetic fiber production require high inputs of energy and water and produce harmful air emissions.   The synthetic backing materials used in carpet manufacturing also have environmental impacts. Polyvinyl chloride (PVC), a commonly used backing material, is produced from vinyl chloride monomer a potent human carcinogen. PVC may contain stabilizers, such as lead (a toxic metal) and may contain plasticizer chemicals (usually phthalates) that can release into the indoor environment throughout the life of the carpet.

Carpet production is energy and water intensive and toxic dyes have been used to produce the attractive colours requested by customers.  Carpet dyeing by wet methods consumes huge amounts of energy and water and results in wastewater releases to the environment. Steam fixing and drying of the carpet is highly energy-intensive and additional wastewater is generated.

Carpet has been identified as a contributor to indoor air pollution, particularly from adhesives used for installation. Adhesives, seam sealants, and carpet padding all contribute to Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs) off-gassing, but adhesives are generally considered the largest contributor.

Old carpet has been typically disposed of in landfills, taking up valuable landfill space and wasting resources that could be reused or recycled.

Carpet treatments and finishes are often applied to improve performance and wear, including anti-static, anti-soil, anti-stain, and anti-microbial coatings. Many of these can negatively impact the environment and indoor air quality.  Benefits of these treatments should be carefully assessed before purchase.

The Accessibility for Manitobans Act and its related standards require entities to identify and prevent barriers to accessibility in operations. For a person who has a physical, mental, intellectual or sensory impairment, a barrier is anything that interacts with that impairment in a way that may hinder the person's full and effective participation on an equal basis. Ensuring that goods and services we procure do not create new accessibility barriers is therefore important.

From an accessibility perspective, there can be a number of issues associated with surface flooring for persons with mobility and visual barriers. For example, plush flooring can be difficult for wheelchair and walker propulsion; highly patterned carpets can be difficult to navigate with visual and balance impairments; etc. In addition, carpets in poor condition or poorly installed may be a tripping hazard.

 

What are the options?

Dyeing methods such as solution dyeing are less burdensome to the environment. Solution dyeing is a process in which color is added to the molten polymer solution from which the fibers are extruded. Solution dyeing does not involve any aqueous dye solutions or drying steps, thereby considerably reducing the amount of energy and water usage that is associated with wet dyeing.  In addition, solution dyed carpet is less prone to fading and side match problems thus increasing the life of the carpet and reducing carpet wastage during installation. 

The Carpet and Rug Institute (CRI), responsible for carpet standards and certification, has a Green Label and Green Label Plus program.  The CRI certifies products with low emissions and minimal impact on indoor air quality.  Check out their web site at www.carpet-rug.org.  Innovative carpet adhesion methods are also available that significantly reduce the need for off-gassing adhesives, including carpet tiles that use peel and stick tags only at the four corners, instead of coating the entire tile.

If carpet cushion/underlay is required it should also be CRI certified under its Green Label program, as well as contain a high percentage of recovered materials, depending on its composition which may be urethane, jute, synthetic fiber, or rubber.

“Carpet-to-carpet” is considered the best form of recycling because the resources and energy used to manufacture the carpet and backing are utilized again to produce new carpet that lasts another lifetime.  Today there are a large variety of carpets on the market that are made completely from, or incorporate a high content of, postconsumer or post industrial recycled material and many carpet manufacturers have carpet take back programs.

Organizations such as CRI and the American with Disabilities Association (ADA) have been working together to achieve both green and accessible carpets. Carpet attributes supporting accessibility have been developed for carpet in public areas to ensure all people with disabilities have access to public accommodations, government services, and commercial facilities.

 

Last updated: April 2017

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