Focus: By A ThreadThe environmental impact floorcovering has on an interior space cannot be discounted. Since the floor occupies so much space in a project, this horizontal plane is ripe with opportunity for designers to make a substantial statement in terms of aesthetics and sustainability. At the same time, by its nature, the floor must perform well even while being walked all over. Thus, it is crucial to consider the material that constitutes carpet and carpet tile. Selecting carpet constructed of the appropriate fibers may very well be one of the most eco-conscious decisions one can make during the design process. As the A&D community as a whole—and frankly the whole human race—continues to seek out ways to reduce its carbon footprint, using carpet fibers made of post-consumer-content is a step in the right direction.
The carpet industry estimates that 5 billion lbs. of carpet ends up in landfills each year—5 billion! As such, the industry has been proactive in developing recycling programs to reclaim carpet at the end of its useful life, with various manufacturers working together toward this common goal. The Carpet and Rug Institute’s Carpet America Recovery Effort (CARE) is a joint effort between the carpet industry and the government to promote recycling and reuse of post-consumer carpet and reduce the amount off waste carpeting in landfills. Since its inception in 2002, CARE’s mission has been “to facilitate the carpet industry lead initiative to find market driven solutions to the diversion of post-consumer carpet from landfills to meet the time sensitive goals of the Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) for Carpet Stewardship [a national agreement signed by members of the carpet industry, representatives of government agencies at the federal, state, and local levels, and non-governmental organizations].”
The impact this one industry has on landfills is staggering, but it is heartening to see manufacturers doing their part to offer recycled product through environmentally sustainable means—the INVISTA™ Carpet Reclamation Program has collected over 65 million pounds of carpet since 2001, resulting in more than 120,000 cubic yards of conserved landfill space, and Zeftron nylon 6ix Again Recycling Program is a closed-loop process that recycles nylon 6 again and again while retaining its performance, durability, and coloration characteristics. The environmental equation is multifaceted: making carpet fiber out of post-consumer content, recycling carpet at the end of its life, and using green manufacturing processes that are energy efficient and do not produce and toxic by products. And the quality of the end product remains highly functional. According to studies conducted by Zeftron., the company tested its yarns with 100 percent recycled content and found no loss of performance characteristics when compared directly to yarns with no recycled content. (Today Zefron nylon yarns all contain a minimum of 25 percent recycled content— any product bearing the Enviro6ix® tag contains no less than 25 percent recycled content, but in years past it offered yarns both with and without recycled content.) Similarly, InterfaceFLOR and Solutia report no performance differences between recycled versus non-recycled.
While polypropylene (also called olefin), polyester, wool, acrylic, and cotton fibers all constitute aesthetically pleasing carpets, several manufacturers seem to agree that nylon—specifically solution-dyed nylon type 6,6—is one of the highest performing fibers for commercial carpets. Utilized in 65 percent of carpet sold in the United States, nylon offers excellent performance characteristics as it offers extreme durability, good resiliency, yarn memory to hold twist, carpet cleaning efficacy, stain resistance with stain treatment applied, soil hiding ability, and abrasion resistance. However virgin nylon has the greatest environmental footprint of any raw materials. Thus, recycled nylon offers a viable, eco-friendly solution.
Solutia improved upon its type 6,6 version with Ultron Renew®, which offers the same performance as Ultron nylon 6,6 but is constructed of up to 100 percent post-industrial recycled content and polymer products created during the nylon manufacturing process before they enter the waste stream, recycling them into premium nylon 6,6 carpet fiber. Similarly, Antron, known in the industry for products with superior soil resistance, wear resistance, and pile-height retention, offers its high-performance fibers with recycled content. Antron Lumena® solution dyed nylon fibers is available with 25 percent pre-consumer recycled content in more than 50 colors, while Antron® Legacy nylon and Antron with StainRESIST is available with 90 percent pre-consumer recycled content on a special order basis.
In 2007, InterfaceFLOR introduced itsReEntry® 2.0 process of “clean separation” of carpet fiber from its backing to offer the maximum amount of post-consumer material to be recycled into new product with minimal contamination. In this process, post-consumer nylon 6,6 fiber is returned to InterfaceFLOR’s fiber supplier where it is combined with virgin nylon and constructed into new carpet, while the backing is recycled into new backing using InterfaceFLOR’s Cool Blue backing technology.
Quality and performance of carpet is not only derived from carpet fiber alone. The best performing product emerges from the best combination of fiber construction into appropriate yarn that is then tufted into an appropriate construction. Not all applications need the toughest performing carpet fibers, therefore considering where the carpet will be installed and the amount of foot traffic that will traverse it dictates whether softer yarns or more durable commercial grade fibers are required. But it’s crucial to remember that the fiber selected can mean a lot more to the project than merely aesthetics or performance, it’s a chance to make an environmental impact—or not.