Choose an eco-friendly carpet

Choose an eco-friendly carpet

New carpet is a delight. But it can be an environmental horror when its time comes to die. So are there eco-friendly carpets on the market? And what can you do with a dead one? Kay Hill investigates

Roger Oates' Isis Leaf 100% wool carpet is made from British Cheviot wool

A carpeted space has a smoothness, softness and homeliness that other floor coverings can't match. 100 per cent wool carpets are undoubtedly a safe bet environmentally, because wool is naturally biodegradable. Pictured above: carpet doesn't get more British than Roger Oates' Isis Leaf  in 100 per cent British Cheviot wool, with no backing. £122 per linear metre, W60cm. 

In all the excitement of the arrival of a lovely new floor covering, little thought tends to be directed towards the fate of the unloved and obsolete one – but we've got to start thinking about end of life issues when choosing carpets, and seek out eco-friendly ones.
 
Every year around 400,000 tonnes of carpet waste are buried in landfill, including used carpets and unwanted off-cuts created during fitting - and since the majority of carpets are made from polypropylene, nylon, or wool and nylon blends, that means a lot of non-biodegradable waste cluttering up landfill and causing problems for future generations.
 
The industry is cleaning up its act
 
Carpet Recycling UK is a scheme funded by a group of UK carpet and flooring manufacturers, which aims to find innovative solutions to the waste problem. Supported by names including Vorwerk, Mohawk, Milliken, Forbo and Abingdon Flooring, scheme manager Jane Gardner and her team aim to find new uses for recycled carpet, facilitate relationships between waste recyclers and carpet producers and raise awareness of the problem. 
 
'In 2008 just two per cent of carpet waste was recycled,' she says.'By 2012 we were recycling 21 per cent and I'm confident we will meet our target of 25 per cent recycling by 2015. More and more local authorities are now separating carpet waste for recycling, with a significant increase this year – 25 per cent of authorities are now recycling.'
 
Dutch company MID Carpets makes Econyl carpets, which are made form recycled nylon, which can itself be recycled. www.mid.nl
US brand Merida uses only renewable, sustainable fibres that biodegrade. Nasturtium weave carpet is woven from sisal. Pic by Marco Ricca for Kemble Interiors. www.meridameridian.com
Vorwerk's Hermelin nylon carpet in dove grey, £75m2. The company has developed an energy-saving cold dye process
Crucial Trading's Biscayne stripe in lime is made from 100% Laneve wool, £46m2
Brinton's Bell Twist, from £30m2, meets the Carpet & Rug Institute Green Label Plus programme
Blenheim Carpets specialise in pure wool carpets. www.blenheim-carpets.com
Blenheim Carpets make luxurious pure wool carpets in plain colours and in patterns
Flock Carpets' textured Perendale carpet is made from NZ fully traceable Laneve wool, from £84m2. www.flock-living.com
Easy to clean, Mohawk's EverStrand carpet is made from 100% post consumer plastic bottles. www.mohawkflooring.com
Ulster Carpets uses fully traceable 100 per cent Laneve wool from Wools of New Zealand
Mohawk's SmartStrand carpet is made from 37% renewably sourced corn polymer from maize £28m2
New carpet offcuts become underlay
 
At Anglo Recycling Technology in Lancashire, MD Andy Hall oversees the recycling of 25 tonnes a week of carpet waste. One of his biggest successes was to forge an alliance with John Lewis to collect all the scraps and offcuts from its fitters. The wool and wool/nylon blended offcuts are turned into eco-friendly carpet underlay which is then sold back to John Lewis for use by its fitters. 'At the moment we're recycling post-industrial and post-fitter waste,'says Hall. Which is new carpet, not yet customers' old carpets. So, he says, 'The biggest challenge now is to develop recycling for post-consumer waste.' 
 
At the moment, consumers have little real choice about how to recycle their old carpets - though you'll find some ideas below.
 
Most simply take it to their local council recycling centre, three-quarters of which do not sort carpet but simply put it into landfill – not a problem if it’s a naturally biodegradable product like pure wool, jute or sisal, but no good at all if it’s man-made. In cases where carpet is sent by local authorities for recycling, around half of it is burned and used as an energy source in waste-to-energy schemes, while the other half is properly recycled into useful products. 
 
'The problem with recycling post-consumer carpets,' says Hall, 'is how do you cope with the ones that are soaking wet, or stink of cat wee, or are made from something that we can’t identify?'
 
None the less, meetings are currently underway between Hall, (chair of the board of directors at Carpet Recycling UK), the BRE and government body the Technology Strategy Board, to find ways around the problems.
 
'It’s important that people start recognising the problem and developing a solution, as DEFRA (Dept for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs) is already looking at possible legislation on the subject,' warns Hall.
 
Germany's Vorwerk has high eco standards. 100% polyamide Hermelin carpet, £75m2
At Anglo Recycling in Lancs, the fibres of new carpet offcuts are pulled off the backing ready to become underlay
The fibres are compressed and become carpet underlay. www.anglorecycling.com
Reprise carpet runner made from recycled sari silk, from £696m2. www.topfloorrugs.com
Louis de Poortere wool Colour Net carpet has a jute backing
Brinton's 80/20 Bell Twist carpet meets tough green standards. £30m2
Think wool
 
Asked what is the most eco-friendly carpet choice, recycling boss Andy Hall is very clear: 'I would stick to a wool-based carpet with wool from a reputable company like Wools of New Zealand, as it’s grown naturally and is sustainable and very recyclable.'
 
High end UK carpet and rug designer Roger Oates agrees: 'Wool is the ultimate eco natural material as it’s from a naturally renewable source and is fully sustainable. The structure of the fibre acts as a natural shield against dirt, and as it's inherently fire retardant no additional chemical treatments are needed. It is extremely durable, but at the end of a long life it can be recycled or, because it is biodegradable, it can be composted.'
 
And where facilities exist, wool can be chopped up and mulched into the soil as a natural fertiliser or it can be recycled into products such as underlay and insulation.
 
Roger Oates' new Cheviot Collection uses wool from British Cheviot sheep which is spun by English wool spinners, woven in British mills and hand-finished in Herefordshire to produce a product which is biodegradable and doesn’t waste carbon on transport. Because the carpets are woven, they don’t have a backing, making recycling easier.
 
While British wool comes in lots of interesting natural colours, New Zealand wool is famed around the world for its pure white colour that takes dye beautifully. Now Wools of New Zealand has launched its premium Laneve range, which offers carpet-to-farm traceability and guarantees that farmers meet a comprehensive range of environmental, social responsibility and animal welfare standards. Buyers of a carpet made from Laneve are given a special code that they can enter online to see which farm the wool came from.
 
The Laneve wool has been picked up by a number of manufactures, from Crucial Trading, which uses it for its modern, striped Biscayne carpet, to Ulster Carpets’ Wellington Stripe, to the elegant sculptured Portland and Perendale carpets from Flock.
 
Crucial Trading's general manager Michael Turner points out that a wool carpet takes only around an eighth of the energy to produce that a nylon carpet uses, while Ashoke Sethia, MD at Flock says 'our main aim is to provide nothing but the best quality wool carpet in contemporary colourways, textures and patterns. Our search took us to Laneve because of its ethical ethos.'
 
Belgium's Louis de Poortere makes superb quality 100 per cent wool carpet, some with jute backing, making the product eminently biodegradable.
 
MID's Boucle Flame carpet is made from Econyl, recycled nylon. www.mid.nl
Ulster Carpets' Wellington Stripe is made form 100 % Laneve wool. £39m2
Amaize carpet from Belgium's Balta Group contains 37% corn starch and 63% nylon
Manx Carpets' Ecostyle Quartz carpet contains 90% recycled PET and 10% wool. £23m2
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Poly what?
 
Nylon carpet used to be considered cheap and nasty. But times have certainly changed and there are some beautiful nylon carpets available, in soft, subtle colourways not always associated with wool carpets.
 
Ian Hammond is UK director of Vorwerk, the German flooring company that specialises in hi-tech nylon carpeting for homes and carpet tiles for businesses. The company recently launched its Eco Balance commitment which aims to give priority to environmental and social responsibility, and has made big strides in improving the sustainability of nylon carpet.
 
'The thing about nylon is that it is really sustainable because it has such good performance and it’s so hard-wearing,' says Hammond, pointing out that a good quality nylon carpet will outlive a wool blend and remains stain resistant and easy to clean throughout its life. It looks good, too: 'If you touch a high quality nylon carpet you would never believe that it is a synthetic material, it feels like wool. Synthetic material carpets have been tarnished by the poor performance of polypropylene which is not a very resilient material; but we are using polyamide, a completely different ‘poly’.'
 
Vorwerk uses a unique cold-dyeing process that uses 90 per cent less steam and 70 per cent less water than conventionally hot-dyed products, and it has also removed all the chalk normally present in synthetic latex backings, resulting in a product that is 500g per m2 lighter and more flexible, cutting energy use during transportation. More importantly, it enabled offcuts to be burned for energy without producing toxic fumes. Vorwerk also uses 30 per cent recycled polyethylene in its carpet backings.
 
And Vorwerk offers carpet made from Econyl nylon which is recycled from old fishing nets, but this has to be ordered in such bulk that it is not yet suitable for residential customers.
 
Another company using Econyl is Dutch carpet company MID. 'We offer 100% recycled Econyl yarn for our new contract collection, but when it comes to residential customers it is all about the aesthetics and price,' says Mark Van Koningsveld, sales and marketing manager at MID. 'Architects and designers want to make the whole building green, from the water to the furniture, so the commercial world is very much further ahead in terms of eco-friendliness than the residential market, which likes the concept but doesn’t want to pay a different price for it.'
 
Koningsveld is pragmatic: 'We need man-made fibres, and if we need them let’s make them as environmentally responsible as possible.'
 
But for Andy Hall at Anglo, nylon is the most problematic carpet to recycle – fine in the small quantities of an 80:20 carpet, but complete nylon carpets cannot currently be made into anything saleable in the UK.
 
US is recycling Nylon 6
 
Elsewhere in the world that is changing, though. And in the US there are already facilities to recycle Nylon 6, the highest quality filament, and now this is up and running in Europe via a plant in Slovenia owned by Italian company Aquafil Group.
 
Its Econyl Regeneration System produces the sought-after Nylon 6 polymer to make new Econyl carpets by recycling not only fishing nets, but also the pile from old nylon carpets and rugs, presenting a tantalising glimpse of the closed loop system that could one day exist worldwide.
 
New kids on the block
 
As customers look for more green features in their carpets, so manufacturers are rising to the challenge, with products such as Mohawk’s SmartStrand, a man-made carpet in which just over a third of the fibres are made from renewably sourced corn polymer from maize.
 
Vice president of international sales Howard Lyndsey explains: 'It used to be that if you wanted an environmentally-friendly carpet, you'd have to compromise on texture, with many recycled content fibres being surprisingly coarse and not so comfortable underfoot, as well as being difficult to clean and maintain.
 
'SmartStrand carpet has the luxurious feel, long-term life and stain resistance of nylon carpets but uses 30 per cent less energy it its production.'
 
A similar product is on offer from Belgian group Balta, which is launching Amaize, stain-resistant carpets made using a fibre that contains 37 per cent renewable corn sugar.
 
Mohawk also offers the completely recycled and very affordable EverStrand carpet. According to Lyndsey: 'It's possibly one of the most environmentally friendly man-made carpets you can buy. Made entirely from post-consumer recycled plastic drinks bottles, the manufacture of EverStrand carpet fibre has diverted almost three billion plastic drinks bottles from landfill sites every year.
 
'In the production process, the bottles are recycled into PET chips, which are then extruded into EverStrand fibre to make durable, soft and sustainable carpet.'
 
Also making use of old plastic bottles is Manx Carpets, whose EcoStyle range is made from 90 per cent recycled PET and 10 per cent wool. In theory the old carpet could be returned to PET chips and remade, but closed loop systems don’t yet exist, so the best case scenario is that in areas with carpet recycling facilities, it will be made use of as lower grade products in its next life.
 
Finally, for recycling at the very luxurious end of the market, the offcuts of vibrant silk from Indian sari factories have been transformed into delicately beautiful rugs and runners at Top Floor for silk flooring with a conscience.
 
And while we wait for fully closed loop carpet recycling around the world, here are some suggestions as to what to do with old carpet:
 
Reuse it within your home, for example by reusing an unworn area that was under a bed in a cloakroom or even the garden shed
Donate it on Freecycle or sell it on Ebay for reuse
Cut it up to use as doormats or runners
Use under heavy furniture or exercise equipment to prevent damage to new carpet
Use as car mats or boot liners
Cut into strips to stop weeds in the vegetable patch
Use as a pond liner under thick polythene
Use as extra loft insulation
Use as sound insulation for teenagers bedrooms
 
 
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