The Carpet & Rug Institute (CRI) offers the Green Label Plus (GLP) certification program, which verifies testing of carpets that emit low levels of 76 different compounds. The entire product is tested, so it includes treatments, adhesives, and backings. Carpets rated by Green Label Plus exceed the requirements of California schools, CRI says, and are approved for use in the American Lung Association’s Healthy Homes program.
Some air quality experts remain cautious. Tom Lent of the Healthy Building Network (HBN) worries that GLP doesn’t test for all hazardous substances, such as heavy metals that may be present in some recycled-content backings, and expresses concerns about some chemicals present in backings made with SB latex, polyvinyl butyral, and polyurethane. CRI refutes these concerns, stating that Green Label Plus–certified carpets undergo the testing processes required by California 01350, the most rigorous standard for indoor air quality testing in the country. What’s more, the presence of the chemicals in question is de minimis, says CRI’s sustainability and IAQ program manager Jeff Carrier, noting that any trace amounts are encapsulated.
Natural backings—including rubber and hemp—are available on some non-synthetic brands; however, be sure to ask about both the primary and the secondary backings. A natural rubber adhesive is an alternative option to chemical-based resins.
HBN also raises concerns about topical stain treatments because of their reliance on perfluorocarbons. If treatments must be used, Lent advises to look for those made with C-6 compounds versus C-8 compounds, which are listed as a chemical of concern by the EPA. All U.S. manufacturers have already made this switch.
Prior to installation, air out carpet outdoors or in a controlled environment; ventilate the house during installation and for 48 to 72 hours afterward.
End of Life
The carpet industry’s other chief challenge has been waste. “We absolutely cannot continue to send 3.5 billion pounds of [embedded] oil to the landfill every year,” says CRI president Werner Braun. “We have a vision that that’s going to stop.”
The industry is making a concerted effort to increase reuse, including through the creation of the Carpet America Recovery Effort (CARE), an industry-government partnership that facilitates initiatives to divert carpet from landfills. CARE reports that 246 million pounds of carpet were recycled in 2009; 1.6 billion pounds have been recycled since CARE’s founding in 2002.
One obstacle has been collection. CARE members reported a 5.3% diversion rate and 4.2% recycling rate in 2009. But that number is expected to keep climbing as reclamation centers pop up across the country. Check with your retailer or installer for locations or visit www.carpetrecovery.org.
The other difficulty lies in closing the carpet-to-carpet loop, in part because there just aren’t many outlets yet, CARE reports. But that’s also changing. For example, Shaw’s Evergreen facility in Augusta, Ga., reprocesses old carpet (from any brand) collected at a growing number of reclamation centers, into new nylon 6 fibers for remanufacture. Bentley Prince Street is starting to incorporate post-consumer carpet as well.