Despite the rise in popularity of laying wooden floors in modern homes, the majority of floor covering still tends to be carpet.
However, there are many reasons why carpets are not a good choice in terms of their environmental impact, both in the way they are produced and also with regards to their effect in the home. Perhaps now is the time, then, to consider the green alternatives to carpets which are available.
Why Are Carpets Bad?
Most carpets that are bought are made from man-made, synthetic fibres such as nylon, polyester, acrylic, and polypropylene. Not only do these materials not biodegrade well (thus causing a problem in terms of disposal and landfill), but they are backed with petroleum-based products, including SB-latex which contains the toxic carcinogenic, styrene.
New man-made carpets are also treated with a number of harmful toxins during the manufacturing and finishing process which can pollute the indoor air of your home. This is called ‘off-gassing’ and includes the chemicals used for treatments such as stain-proofing, making the carpet fire-retardant, antistatic, and resistant to fungi.
What Are Green Alternatives To Carpets?
A green alternative to carpet is a floor covering that is preferably produced in a sustainable way from a natural, renewable source, which is biodegradable and/or recyclable, non-toxic and still performs the necessary and desirable functions of a carpet.
The following are a few examples of floor coverings which fulfil these criteria and which make excellent green alternatives to carpet.
The best choice for a traditional style carpet would be wool. A totally natural product, it is long-lasting, sustainable, biodegradable and also has the added advantages of being naturally fire-resistant and very adept at trapping pollutants.
The main concern over wool, though, is that it is sometimes treated with a toxic chemical for deterring moths. However, with careful research, it is possible to source untreated wool carpets and also to opt for a carpet which has been coloured using only natural dyes.
Nevertheless, a further consideration if investing in wool would perhaps be the fact that most wool for carpeting is produced from sheep reared in New Zealand, not energy-intensive industry in itself but one which incurs high transportation costs.
Another option would be to consider sustainable plant sources, many of which make excellent green alternatives to carpets – and with the added benefit of being much better for the quality of indoor air.
One of the most environmentally-friendly alternatives to carpet sisal. Sisal is a plant fibre grown in Africa and Latin America which is produced from the agave plant. It is grown without pesticides and harvested by hand, adding to its environmental credentials, before being tightly woven into a thin, hard-wearing floor covering which is antistatic and resistant to dust mites.
Coir is a much coarser fibre which comes from the coconut plant. The coconut husk is soaked in the sea and the fibres are woven into strong, textural, matting for either indoor or outdoor use.
Grown in India and Bangladesh, this fibre is silky in texture and softer to the touch with a slightly more luxurious feel. For this reason, it tends to be less hard-wearing than other fibres and so suited for areas which don’t need such a durable floor covering.
Long heralded as a good green alternative to carpet, cork is a tree bark which seems to have it all. Its warm underfoot, easy to clean, acts both as an insulator and sound absorber and comes from a sustainable harvesting process which does no damage to the tree. Long gone are the days of the 1970’s cork-look – today the product is made in a funky range of styles and colours.
Grown underwater (hence the name) in Asia. The thick waxy fibres are woven into a durable product which is green-brown in colour and resistant to stains.
Bamboo is a famously fast-growing and sustainable crop which is water-resistant, strong, flexible, and hard-wearing. It is possible to buy bamboo flooring as easy-to-lay ‘click and fit’ ‘tiles’ in the same manner as wood flooring is now manufactured.
Recycled Content Carpet
If natural fibre carpeting is not for your, then a greener alternative to buying new would be to consider laying recycled content carpet.
These products look new, but are made out of such materials as plastic PET bottles (which produces a soft, fleece-like texture), recycled wool and cotton, or even recycled carpet itself.
When purchasing such products; however, be sure to also take into consideration, the backing that has been used and also opt for it to be tacked rather than glued down when being laid, as a healthier and greener option.