When looking at materials, it is important to consider the full life cycle of a product. While carpet may not seem like a damaging material, a recent study ranked it as the most negatively impactful flooring type because of its short service life compared to other flooring and its embodied carbon impacts.1
The Perkins & Will study, “Embodied Carbon and Material Health in Gypsum Drywall and Flooring” analyzed various flooring products. The study determined that most of the embodied carbon related to flooring came from the production stage, in particular, the raw material supply used in manufacturing.
The embodied carbon of carpet consists of:2
Due to its short service life and high embodied carbon, carpet was ranked as the “greatest to avoid” within the flooring category based on GWP (global warming potential). The report recognizes that the biggest improvement opportunities lie with alternative flooring choices that include extended service life and less carbon. However, there are still ways to improve carpet. Specifically, it is important to improve the manufacturing of nylon carpet fiber.3
Other material health concerns surrounding carpet involve toxic heavy metals, like fly ash used in carpet tile filler, that are known to contain lead, mercury, asbestos, and arsenic.7
Common carpet backings are made of vinyl and polyurethane – both of which use mercury, asbestos, and PFAS in the production process.1 Mercury has been classified as a developing toxicant because of its potential for human health impacts.4
Additionally, hazards like PFAS utilized in carpet are categorized as “forever chemicals” for their lingering effect in the environment.1
The report identified top opportunities to reduce the amount of carpet fiber in products and urges the need for a circular economy.1 Building materials (plastic in particular) are frequently not recycled. A significant amount of building materials ends up in landfills. 5
The investment in a circular economy allows more take-back programs to choose from, minimal use of chemicals of concern, and material transparency.1 The demineralization of carpets is also posed as a healthier alternative that does not undermine the service life of carpet flooring.6
Check out the previous Spec Matters newsletter on carpet for further suggestions.
Consider the following opportunities to improve the material health of carpet:
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