Environmentally Responsible Carpet Choices

By Watson, Stephanie A. | Journal of Family and Consumer Sciences, January 2005 | Go to article overview

Environmentally Responsible Carpet Choices


Watson, Stephanie A., Journal of Family and Consumer Sciences


Most carpet is made to last, but once soiled, matted, or out of style, it is often thrown away. Almost 5 billion pounds of carpet are sent to landfills every year, consuming acres of ever-dwindling landfill space and wasting money and other resources. Fiber and carpet manufacturers are developing efficient ways to reuse and recycle these materials. This article provides an overview of available recycling options. An overview of current carpet recycling processes used in the floor covering industry is presented.

In the construction stage, buildings consume land, air, space, materials, and energy. When in use, they continue to consume energy and produce waste products. They exist to provide the spaces within, the spaces that interior designers plan, detail, and furnish. Interior designers and architects have traditionally understood their obligations to serve the needs and desires of their clients but have tended to believe that their responsibilities end at that point. In the case of projects in which the commissioning individual, family, or organization will be the only occupant or user, this assumption may seem valid. Yet, such a view ignores the reality that every project, no matter how small or how personal, consumes space, resources, and energy and generates waste, affecting society as a whole (Pile, 2003).

Carpeting, one of the design components most common to all buildings, has affected the environment for years. Unfortunately, its influence has been less than positive. Most carpeting is made from synthetic fibers, such as nylon and polyester, that are not biodegradable. Once disposed of in landfills, carpeting remains in the environment for generations. An option to landfill disposal is to recycle carpet and carpet fibers. Recycling old carpet conserves much-needed landfill space, decreases societal dependence on petroleum, and reduces the energy needed to manufacture carpet from virgin fibers, yielding multiple benefits for the environment. The Carpet and Rug Institute (2000) estimated that 2 million tons of rugs and carpets are removed from homes and businesses each year in the U.S. Even the most durable carpet will eventually reach the end of its useful life as a result of either everyday wear and tear or changing styles and aesthetic desires. Fewer than 1 % of carpets will be recycled.

Recycling can be costly for consumers, and at present, carpet recycling facilities are not widely available. Thus, approaching the problem at the front end of the carpet life cycle becomes important. Designers and consumers can choose from several environmentally responsible carpets. Making this choice requires information that is often difficult to find and is located in diverse publications. Therefore, the purpose of this article is to examine the options available in regard to carpet recycling. An overview of different recycling processes currently being used in the floor covering industry is provided.

OVERVIEW

Carpet is made from a complex of materials. For example, tufted broadloom carpet consists of four major components: face yarn, primary backing, adhesive, and secondary backing. Face yarn or pile carpeting may be nylon, polypropylene, polyester, wool, or acrylic. Nylon is the most prevalent fiber in use, and it is available in carpet as Type 6 or Type 6,6. Types 6 and 6,6 are made from petroleum-based chemicals; differences between the two are associated with the manufacturing and dyeing processes involved (Hagewood, 1999).

The primary backing is generally a woven polypropylene fabric through which the face yarn is tufted. The adhesive layer is generally made from water-based latex and calcium carbonate mineral filler. The secondary backing is a lightweight fabric that provides strength and dimensional stability. Tn most carpet, secondary backing consists of a polypropylene slit tape in the warp direction and a polypropylene spun yarn in the fill direction. In the case of some types of carpet, such as carpet tiles, a vinyl coating replaces the latex adhesive layer and secondary backing.

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