Sustainable carpet choices
While rustic floorboards and polished concrete have long been the mainstays of sustainable design, carpets are still often used in bedrooms for their softness and insulating qualities. Interior designer and healthy home expert Melissa Wittig helps you tread the woven path.
While thermally massive materials such as concrete and tiles are often preferred for living spaces to help moderate temperatures, carpet does have benefits in the right space, offering warmth underfoot, noise reduction and insulation. However, the environmental impact of carpets varies widely. One of the primary issues is the relatively short life cycle of some carpets when compared with hard flooring materials.
Agriculturally sourced fibres have wide ranging impacts depending on the intensity of production, land and water use and the related outputs of the farm. Life Cycle Assessments (LCAs) aim to cover all of these aspects, but for agricultural commodities this is inherently complicated and not all assessments will cover farm processes.
The need to regularly vacuum carpets to lengthen life, maintain appearance and reduce dust should also be considered alongside the embodied energy – that is, all the energy required to produce and distribute the product for use.
Carpets are recyclable, but current rates of recycling or reuse in Australia are low. When carpets are recycled, only one reuse is generally possible, with around 25 per cent of the carpet likely able to be reused as carpet, a further 25 per cent could be retained for carpet backing and half the carpet sent to landfill where it could take up to 50 years to break down, releasing greenhouse gases in the process. And of course some components of nylon and synthetic materials from petrochemical origins will never completely break down.
Some manufacturers operate their own recycling programs and will collect your old carpet for reuse as part of the installation agreement, though this is more common for commercial properties. Meanwhile, innovative programs such as one at Deakin University are working to reuse carpet and textile polymer waste in concrete.
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