We had been meaning to replace the carpets in my house for several years. Aged is a polite way of phrasing the condition it was in. From a sustainability perspective, the best thing to do would have been nothing—i.e., do not replace it. However, this conflicted with a liveability perspective, which demanded that the carpets be replaced.
However, the sustainability perspective refused to quit. It demanded that I research the question: is it possible to be sustainable when buying something as heavy as a new carpet? The answer, somewhat to my surprise, is actually yes. It turns out that the carpet and rug industry has been developing some sustainability standards to apply to carpeting, at least for the commercial market. They are also tied into ANSI (American National Standards Institute), and the State of California, which has a Gold Sustainable Carpet Standard. These standards include various aspects of sustainability like content, manufacturing process, reclamation potential, etc. http://www.carpet-rug.org/carpet-and-rug-industry/sustainability/sustainable-carpet/index.cfm. The carpet folks have also rolled out a “Green Label” program that has been incorporated into the well-known LEED green building standards.
But I just wanted to buy a sustainable carpet for my house, not a whole apartment building. What was there for me? I found out that the major carpet brands each have at least a “green line” of product. This generally means that the carpet itself is made from recycled content. Also, while I did not buy from either store, I noticed that both Home Depot and Lowe’s both had an “environmentally friendly” carpet. However, the Home Depot offering was derived from corn, so I eliminated that as an option. We ended up buying the carpet from a neighborhood flooring store –in large part to help keep the neighborhood business in business (They had installed our kitchen floor a couple of years ago ( http://www.keswickflooring.com ) Also, their price was competitive to Lowe’s. And, the “green” carpet was also price competitive to other lines.
Think of carpet as having 2 components— the carpet itself and the padding. Most carpets are made of nylon, polyester, or similar petroleum based product. The carpet we bought (Bliss Heatlhy Home by Beaulieu), is made from recycled soda bottles. I really liked the idea of buying a carpet made from recycled product. I liked the feel of the carpet even better. http://www.blissflooring.com/AboutBlissCarpet_AskBliss.aspx The padding is a little thicker, and a little more expensive as a result. But good support padding is always better for the carpet installed on top of it. Even better, our padding meets the Green Label standard, and has a renewable seed oil base versus the petroleum base of the other paddings. http://www.lpurethane.com/view-fresh-dimension.asp?prod=65
After buying my (fairly) sustainable carpet, I still had the problem of getting rid of the old stuff. I was hoping to be able to take it somewhere to recycle it. But this proved unfeasible. However, I discovered the beauty of FreeCycle (www.freecycle.org). The idea is specifically to avoid throwing things into a landfill. So I posted my old carpet on a couple of freecycle sites. I successfully gave away one of my old carpets. This is better than none. So my attempts to buy sustainable carpet were fairly successful. I think if I had tried this in 2007 vs. 2009, I would have had a lot less success.