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  • Lorianna Kastrop

Cradle-to-Cradle: Sustainability in Carpet Manufacture

Carpeting used to be thought of as the “anti-green” flooring material. The industry used VOC’s (volatile organic chemicals) that out-gassed toxins into home and business environments. Fibers could harbor allergens. VOC’s and cleaning agents could remain embedded in the fibers, which were not beneficial to crawling babies and pets. Carpeting wasn’t as durable or as recyclable as other flooring materials, contributing to waste in our landfills.

There is now a movement to create green carpets that meet high standards, including low-VOC content, less energy use and recycled content in the manufacturing process, increased durability, and alternative installation techniques that avoid harsh chemical glues. In addition, there is a movement to reclaim used carpet and process it into new nylon fibers that meet the same quality standards as virgin nylon. LEED credits can be obtained for using these new “eco-carpets”. Eco-carpet can weigh less, leading to a reduction in transportation and installation costs.

Is there a cost premium for choosing eco-carpet? Of course there is. But it is important to consider that there is a health benefit factor that should weigh heavily in the decision-making process, in addition to the environmental benefit. Here is a video that describes the “Cradle-to-Cradle” process at Shaw Industries in their carpet production process:

We would like to make the public more aware of these choices, and to also notify people in the building trades to look on the back of any carpeting being removed from a building to see if it is recyclable. If so, the manufacturer will make arrangements for pick-up and removal at no additional cost.

We hope that other carpet manufacturers will follow the lead of Shaw and their subsidiary Patcraft. We also encourage other building material manufacturers to adopt the “cradle-to-cradle” model for sustainability. Consumers can encourage this by choosing sustainable products as they become available.

How big of a problem is waste from construction materials? The Environmental Protection Agency did a thorough study published in 1998. The EPA estimated that Construction & Demolition (C&D) activities contributed $136 million tons of landfill debris in 1996. In 1995, the EPA estimated that $217.3 million tons ended up in Municipal Solid Waste (MSW) landfills. So, in the mid-90’s over 60% of MSW landfills were being filled with C&D debris.

In 1996, only 20-30% of C&D debris was recovered for recycling. The materials most frequently recovered were concrete, asphalt, metals and wood. At that time carpeting was categorized among “Miscellaneous” C&D materials. The Miscellaneous category represented 15% of the C&D debris, or over 20 million tons of waste per year. Although the EPA has not conducted a similarly exhaustive study of C&D wastes more recently, it is reasonable to assume that the materials being diverted from landfills are growing at a slow, but hopefully steady, pace. Since C&D represents such a high percentage of the overall waste stream, any growth in recycling of Construction and Demolition materials could have a very large impact in waste reduction. Choose cradle-to-cradle products whenever possible.

Lorianna Kastrop Vice President The Kastrop Group, Inc.

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