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ArticleTechnical Article

Greening Your Purchase of Carpet


Carpet is quiet, soft, slip-resistant and often quite beautiful. These qualities make it a common choice as a floor covering. But, as with any product, various environmental impacts can occur throughout the product's life cycle. By considering a variety of life cycle attributes, from the materials used to manufacture and install carpet to recycling and disposal issues, purchasers can make informed decisions about carpet.


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The purpose of this article is to provide practical information that will assist you in making purchasing decisions. This is not a risk assessment document nor is it intended to substitute for Material Safety Data Sheets (MSDS), labels, or similar documents that provide information on proper storage, handling, use, and disposal. More comprehensive information on carpets is available from a variety of sources.
Why Green Your Carpets?
Health and environmental concerns associated with carpet include indoor air quality, chemical emissions from manufacturing and disposal operations, and solid waste impacts. A variety of volatile organic compounds (VOCs) can be emitted from carpet materials, although VOC emissions from new carpet typically fall to very low levels within 48 to 72 hours after installation when accompanied by good ventilation. Over four billion pounds of carpet enter the solid waste stream in the U.S. every year, accounting for more than one percent by weight and about two percent by volume of all municipal solid waste (MSW). Furthermore, the bulky nature of carpet creates collection and handling problems for solid waste operations, and the variety of materials present in carpet makes it difficult to recycle, although efforts described later in this article are underway to increase recycling opportunities.
Life Cycle and Tradeoff Issues
As with all products, environmental impacts can occur throughout the life cycle of carpet, from the initial acquisition of raw materials to the final disposal of any product remnants. These impacts vary with the types of materials used, the pattern of carpet use and replacement, and the options available for reuse, recycling, or disposal. An approach for evaluating the life cycle impacts of carpet and other floor coverings is included in the Building for Environmental and Economic Sustainability (BEES) tool. BEES includes life cycle impact data on carpet with face fiber made of wool, virgin nylon, recycled nylon, and recycled polyethylene terephthalate (or PET). General information on life cycle analysis and its role in environmentally preferable purchasing (EPP) can be found in the EPP General Training Tool. In addition, it is important to investigate new and updated life cycle analysis tools that can assist purchasers in making decisions about environmentally preferable products.
Materials Used in Carpet
Nylon is the most popular fiber used as the face fiber in commercial carpet. Two closely related forms of nylon, "nylon 6" and "nylon 6,6" are used in carpet face fiber. Polypropylene (olefin), PET, and recycled PET also are used in carpet face fiber. In general, carpet made from PET and polypropylene face fiber is not as durable as carpet made from nylon face fiber.

Carpet backing is used to provide structural support to the face fiber. Over 90 percent of commercial carpet is tufted and consists of three possible elements: 1) the primary backing fabric, 2) the applied bonding adhesive and 3) the secondary backing or a special purpose cushion or hard back. Primary backing is a fabric into which pile yarn tufts are inserted by tufting needles. Polypropylene is the most common material in primary backing fabrics, although polyester is used in some specialty applications. Styrene-butadiene latex is the most common bonding material used in carpet backing systems. Secondary backings usually consist of a fabric laminated to the back of tufted carpet. Woven polypropylene is also the most common fabric in secondary backings. The term is sometimes used in a broader sense to include attached cushion and other polymeric back coatings, such as polyurethane, ethylene vinyl acetate (EVA), polyvinyl chloride (PVC), recycled PVC, jute, polyolefin, (i.e., polyethylene), and amorphous polymer resins. Unlike residential carpet, most commercial carpet comes with the cushion laminated to the carpet. The cushion is the foundation and is integral to the construction of the product.

Jute is a renewable bio-based product but is not as durable as the synthetic backings and is seldom available today. PVC backing with up to 100 percent recycled content is readily available and is used by some manufacturers. A new product to the market has a cushion backing made from postconsumer glass and polyvinyl butyral (PVB) plastic recovered from windshield and safety glass recycling. Use of recycled materials is expected to mitigate the impacts associated with manufacture and disposal.

A polyurethane backing under development uses 4 to 6 percent polyol derived from soybean oil. In addition to the renewable resource advantage, initial data indicate that the use of soy-based polyurethane in carpet backing saves energy over the product life cycle compared to the use of standard petrochemical-based polyols. A bonding adhesive makes use of a renewable, bio-based material derived from a tall oil byproduct of the kraft pulping process. This resin is available from a source that is certified under the American Forest & Paper Association's Sustainable Forestry Initiative Standard and under ISO 14001.

Carpet cushion is placed underneath the carpet to provide longer life, additional comfort, insulation, and noise reduction. In some cases a cushioned secondary backing is integral to the carpet backing. Materials used in carpet cushion include polyurethane, PVC, recycled PVC, PVB, jute, synthetic rubber, and other synthetic fibers. Some of these substances can be obtained from recovered materials. Be sure to specify an alternative to polybrominated diphenyl ethers (PBDEs) which have been phased out of production and are subject to a Significant New Use Rule (SNUR) under the Toxic Substances Control Act. PBDEs subject to the SNUR were formerly used as flame retardants in carpet cushion. For more information about PBDEs see the OPPT PBDE page.
Five Guiding Principles
To help purchasers incorporate environmental considerations into purchasing decisions, EPA developed five guiding principles. The guiding principles provide a framework purchasers can use to make environmentally preferable purchases. The five principles are:

  1. Include environmental factors as well as traditional considerations of price and performance as part of the normal purchasing process.
  2. Emphasize pollution prevention early in the purchasing process.
  3. Examine multiple environmental attributes throughout a product's or service's life cycle.
  4. Compare relative environmental impacts when selecting products and services.
  5. Collect and base purchasing decisions on accurate and meaningful information about environmental performance.
What Can You Do?
Environmentally preferable carpet choices each have their own merits, and choosing one depends on the specific need, location, and use for the carpet. Some questions to consider in determining the best choice for your situation include:
What are the durability requirements?
In general, more durable products reduce environmental impacts because of the less frequent need for replacement. It is important to anticipate the expected use pattern and replacement schedule in order to make the best environmental purchase. For example, a highly durable carpet may not be the best choice for a temporary space with light use or where near-term replacement is expected because of a change in tenants, building renovations, or other factors.
What are the proper installation and maintenance procedures?
Follow the manufacturer's instructions for installation. Industry-recommended standards for carpet installation (CRI 104 for commercial carpet and CRI 105 for residential carpet) are available from the Carpet and Rug Institute (CRI) Web site. Choose low-emitting adhesives such as those that meet the criteria developed by CRI's Green Label program or by Green Seal. Make sure that you select a carpet suitable for the routine cleaning and maintenance procedures in the area where it will be used. Be sure to follow good cleaning practices as recommended by the manufacturer or other reliable sources. CRI's Green Label vacuum cleaner testing program includes a list of vacuum cleaners meeting the Green Label standards for soil removal, dust containment, and carpet appearance retention.
Tiles or broadloom?
Tiles (modular carpet) use more material initially because of the need for a thicker backing. However, depending on the use pattern, tiles can save materials in the long run because worn or soiled tiles can be replaced individually rather than replacing the entire carpet. Because tiles are available in much smaller sizes than broadloom carpet, tiles are ideal for installation over access flooring and can reduce the material wasted due to trimming in some installations, e.g. in spaces with unusual dimensions.
Are reuse options available?
At least one manufacturer offers refurbished products made from used carpet that look and perform like new carpet. This reuse option creates a product that has 100 percent postconsumer content.

What is the recycled content of the carpet face fiber, backing and cushion?

Although recycled content is not the only factor to consider when buying carpet, doing so ensures that a demand exists in the marketplace for these products. In response to that demand, manufacturers must seek a continuous supply of recovered materials (e.g., recycled carpet) in order to manufacture the products. This cycle creates a demand for recycled carpet and materials, which reduces landfill space as well as natural resource, energy and environmental impacts associated with extracting, transporting, and manufacturing virgin, petrochemical-based raw materials.

Although processes exist for manufacturing both nylon 6 and nylon 6,6 from recovered materials, the supply of postconsumer recovered nylon suitable for use in carpet face fiber has been relatively limited due to technical and economic hurdles. Materials used in carpet backing and cushion can come from both postindustrial and postconsumer sources. Be sure to obtain specific information on the recycled content of carpet products, including a break-out of the overall postindustrial and postconsumer content. Also establish the recycled content percentages of each carpet component (i.e., face fiber and backings). The Carpet and Rug Institute recommends that recycled content be stated as a percentage based on total product weight. Federal purchasers and others using appropriated federal funds should consult the Comprehensive Procurement Guidelines (CPG) for Carpet Cushions or the Comprehensive Procurement Guidelines for Carpet regarding recovered materials requirements for carpet.
Ask manufacturers for certification on environmental claims
Certain independent organizations provide testing and auditing services related to environmental standards and other environmental claims, such as recycled content and emissions data. In the absence of independent certification, ask for formal statements signed by senior company officials. Guidance on the use and interpretation of environmental marketing claims is available from the Federal Trade Commission in their document, Guides for the Use of Environmental Marketing Claims.
Is there a mechanism for reusing or recycling some or all of the carpet components?
The Carpet America Recovery Effort can provide information and advice on recycling and other end-of-life options. Ensure that recycling operations are currently established and operational and not based on future expectation. Specify your recovery-recycling requirements in the purchase contract - this ensures that end-of-life issues are addressed and incorporates lifetime cost into the purchase price. Waiting to address end-of-life issues until the need arises can result in more limited options and higher costs.
What are the chemical emissions and other impacts from the manufacture of carpet?
The carpet industry as a whole has made substantial progress in recent years in reducing chemical emissions, energy usage, and water usage associated with manufacturing processes. Additionally, some carpet manufacturers are pursuing certification under ISO 14000-series environmental management standards. Ask manufacturers to provide information on their specific efforts and accomplishments in this area. Industry-wide information in this area is available from the Annual Sustainability Report issued by the Carpet and Rug Institute.

What are the emissions from the carpet itself or from other materials used during its installation, e.g. adhesives? Do any of these emissions present indoor air quality concerns?

Find out if the product has met the Carpet and Rug Institute's (CRI) Green Label/Green Label Plus (GLP) requirements. The Green Label program specifies emission limits for certain chemicals from carpet, cushion, and adhesive. These emission limits and lists of manufacturers who have met the standard are available at the linked site above. Ask manufacturers or others knowledgeable about emissions testing if any other relevant data or analyses are available.
Standards and Specifications
A number of states and EPA Regions have incorporated contract language that takes health and environmental considerations into account when purchasing carpet. North Carolina's specification addresses a broad range of performance and environmental attributes. Massachusetts state agencies specify minimum levels of recycled content for carpet purchases; both Massachusetts and Minnesota allow only low-VOC adhesives; and the State of Washington specifies the maximum emissions allowed in the first 30 days following installation. EPA Region 10 purchases only low-VOC and formaldehyde-free adhesives and requires that any carpet unable to be reused must be recycled with the INVISTA Reclamation Program or its equivalent. EPA's Comprehensive Procurement Guidelines (CPG) currently address only carpet cushion and polyester carpet, but proposed changes to the CPG also include nylon carpet and backing for nylon carpet, as well as some proposed revisions to the existing polyester carpet designation. EPA issued a Notice of Data Availability on the CPG proposal summarizing comments received for nylon carpet and soliciting additional comment on the carpet designation. Scientific Certification Systems has issued an EPP specification, based on life cycle considerations, for environmentally preferable carpet and carpet face fiber. Several carpet manufacturers have products that meet this specification. Purchasers can find the above-cited contract language and additional information on voluntary standards and guidelines for carpet in the EPP Database. In addition, the Institute for Market Transformation to Sustainability (MTS) has a Unified Sustainable Textile Standard (MS Word format, 324K, 37 pp., link to MS Word Viewer) that addresses global benefits for carpet.

Other Activities/Future Directions

On January 8, 2002, a Memorandum of Understanding for Carpet Stewardship (MOU) was signed establishing a ten-year schedule for increased rates of reuse and recycling of carpet. Participants in the negotiation process that led to the MOU included representatives of the carpet industry, federal, state, and local governments, and non-governmental organizations. The carpet industry has established a third-party organization, the Carpet America Recovery Effort (CARE), to facilitate implementation of the MOU goals. The MOU partners have also agreed to develop model procurement guidelines for use by government purchasers. The procurement guidelines will address other performance and environmental issues in addition to end-of-life management.
Contacts and Resources
Carpet America Recovery Effort (CARE)
Promotes the reuse and recycling of carpet. The CARE Web site includes a comprehensive listing of carpet recycling programs as well as information on market and product development for recycled carpet and information on other end-of-life options. CARE also provides general guidance for purchasers on performance and environmental attributes.

Carpet and Rug Institute
Provides a wide range of information on carpet types, performance and care, materials used in carpet, and health and environmental issues.

Comprehensive Procurement Guidelines (CPG)
Designates products that can be made with recovered materials and recommends minimum recovered material content levels.

Green Seal
Green Seal is an independent, nonprofit organization that develops voluntary environmental standards for consumer and commercial products and provides consumer education on environmentally preferable purchasing.

Institute for Market Transformation to Sustainability (MTS)
MTS is an independent organization that has a mission to foster and accelerate the global free market transformation to sustainability.


GSA's Federal Supply Schedule Contract
To assist federal purchasers in fulfilling mandates to purchase recycled content, biobased, naturally renewable, and environmentally preferable products, GSA's Federal Supply Schedule for flooring 72 I A makes these products available from suppliers listed under Special Item Number (SIN) category 31-601 for recycled and/or biobased content flooring.

GSA Advantage!
GSA's online shopping service.

Scientific Certification Systems (SCS)
SCS is an independent organization that provides a wide range of evaluation and certification services, including a number of voluntary health and environmental standards for products.

EPA's Purchasing Tool Suite


EPA's EPP Program has developed the following Web-based tools to help purchasers consider the environment, along with price and performance, when buying a product or service.

Database of Environmental Information for Products and Services
A searchable database of product-specific information (e.g., environmental standards and guidelines or contract language) developed by government programs, both domestic and foreign, as well as third parties.

EPP's Product and Services - Carpets

Comprehensive Guideline for Procurement of Products Containing Recovered Materials; Proposed Rule. Federal Register Vol. 66, No. 167, pp. 45256 - 45274, Aug. 28, 2001.

Comprehensive Guideline for Procurement of Products Containing Recovered Materials; Recovered Materials Advisory Notice III; Final Rule. Federal Register Vol. 65, No. 12, pp. 3070 - 3094, Jan. 19, 2000.

Background Document for Proposed CPG IV and Draft RMAN IV (PDF) (173 pp., 322KB, about PDF) EPA 530-R-01-006, April 2001.
Appendices for the Background Document for Proposed CPG IV and Draft RMAN IV (PDF) (37 pp, 67KB, about PDF).

Database of Sources of Environmental Release of Dioxin-like Compounds in the United States. EPA-600-C-01-012, March 2001.

Memorandum of Understanding for Carpet Stewardship, Jan. 8, 2002.

Selecting Carpet & Rugs - Specifying Commercial Carpet. Carpet & Rug Institute, 2002.

Sustainability Report 2003. Carpet & Rug Institute, 2004.

Sources of Indoor Air Emissions. US EPA Indoor Environment Management Branch, June 1999.

Davidson, J.L., Black, M.S., Pearson, W.J., and Miller, D.P. (1991). "Carpet Installation During Building Renovation and Its Impact on Indoor VOC Concentrations." In: Proceedings of Healthy Buildings/IAQ'91.

Hodgson, A.T., Wooley, J.D., and Daisey, J.M. (1993). "Emissions of Volatile Organic Compounds from New Carpets Measured in a Large-Scale Environmental Chamber." J. Air and Waste Management Assoc., 43: 316 - 324.

Database of Sources of Environmental Release of Dioxin-like Compounds in the United States. EPA-600-C-01-012, March 2001.

"Replacement of a Non-Renewable Resource With a Renewable One at Lees Carpets." Technical summary submitted to US EPA from Lees Carpets, April 2002.

"Soy-Based Thermoset Plastics." United Soybean Board, February 2002.


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Greening Your Purchase of Carpet:  Created on July 9th, 2009.  Last Modified on May 7th, 2013


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The mission of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is to protect human health and the environment. Since 1970, the EPA has been working for a cleaner, healthier environment for the American people. At laboratories located throughout the nation, the agency works to assess environmental conditions and to identify, understand and solve current and future environmental problems.



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