California Department of Resources Recycling and Recovery (CalRecycle) 

Carpet

Carpet Buyers

Whether choosing carpet for your home or as a finish for a larger construction project, there are a number of factors that can confuse even the most seasoned contractor. When choosing carpet, one may need to consider if the building code or other rules require certain types of carpet be installed or if you simply have personal standards to meet. Wading through the various environmental issues can be confusing, and this page will help consumers to clarify some of those and to provide information and links to help you choose your carpet.

Environmental Attributes 101

Besides color and type of carpet, there are many other options that one can consider when making a purchase, including environmental ones. While there are a number of environmental factors one can consider, three are often the most common. In no specific order, there are 1) recycled content, 2) recyclability, and 3) indoor air quality.

  • Carpets that contain recycled content materials, especially post-consumer, help provide markets for various materials that would otherwise be wasted and this saves natural resources.
  • In 2008, an estimated 1.285 million tons of carpet was buried in California landfills. Some carpets are made from fiber that is more readily recycled than others. One can look at today's carpet recycling industry to better understand if your carpet will be recyclable when it is time to replace it. Currently nylon fibers have the highest economic value in the recycling process and are highly desired for this reason.
  • Low-emitting carpets and other flooring materials have been tested to determine if certain potentially unhealthy chemicals are emitted from them. A number of protocols have been developed to test the chemical emissions form carpets and other building products.

To help better define these attributes, as well as others, several organizations have developed buying guides. These guides will help you understand what these all mean and can help you determine what attributes may be important to you when making your choice. Along with the following buying guides, several organizations have developed methods and rating systems to test and identify which carpets meet these many attributes.

Buying Guides

These guides were developed to either help meet Environmentally Preferable Purchasing (EPP) goals or to help to define terms and attributes used when discussing carpet. These will help you understand what the many attributes mean:

Specifications

Alameda County developed environmental non-residential carpet specifications that are designed to be integrated with other performance specifications to form a complete specification. The County specifies carpet that contains recycled content and minimizes off-gassing, and requires that all carpet removed be recycled and asks for a certificate of recycling. Two formats are provided:

Certifications and Protocols

Several certification programs and testing protocols have been developed to help consumers identify products with various environmental attributes. Testing protocols standardize how a product should be tested for a specific environmental claim, and allow direct performance comparisons of various products. Certifications can be single-or multiple-attribute. Multi-attribute certification programs rate products based upon the number of attributes they have, and those products containing more attributes will rate higher on their scale. Generally these programs provide some levels of third party testing to determine what the attributes the product actually has:

  • NSF 140 was designed to establish a system with varying levels of certification to define sustainable carpet. Details can be found in the NSF 140 carpet standard fact sheet
  • Carpet and Rug Institute's CRI Green Label and Green Label Plus are the carpet industry's tiered environmental certifications for carpet. They have developed certifications for both residential and commercial applications.
  • The California Department of Public Health's Standard Method for VOC Emissions Testing and Evaluation (Section 01350), is a health-based testing protocol that is used for testing materials for various chemicals that may be emitted over time into areas where the products are placed.

California Green Building Standards Code (CALGreen)

In 2010 California adopted CALGreen, the nation's first green building code. It was organized similarly to many of the country's existing green building rating systems, but was designed to reduce the environmental impacts of the state's new construction without substantially increasing the costs. Currently, the code only applies to new construction, but its scope may be expanded in future revisions. There are provisions in the code for carpet systems. (These are not required when a homeowner changes their existing flooring). The current requirements can be found in the following sections and will reference several of the existing standards or testing protocols:

  • Residential New Construction:
    • Section 4.504.3 Carpet systems. All carpet installed in the building interior shall meet the testing and product requirements of one of the following:
    • Section 4.504.3.J Carpet cushion. All carpet cushion installed in the building interior shall meet the requirements of the Carpet and Rug Institute Green Label Program.
    • Section 4.504.3.2. Carpet adhesive. All carpet adhesive shall meet the requirements of Table 4.504.1.
  • Non-Residential, New Construction:
    • Section 5.404.4.4 Carpet systems. All carpet installed in the building interior shall meet the testing and product requirements of one of the following:
      • 1. Carpet and Rug Institute's Green Label Plus Program.
      • 2. California Department of Public Health Standard Practice for the testing of VOCs (Specification 01350).
      • 3. NSF/ANSI 140 at the Gold level.
      • 4. Scientific Certifications Systems Sustainable Choice.
    • Section 5.504.4.4.1 Carpet cushion. All carpet cushion installed in the building interior shall meet the requirements of the Carpet and Rug Institute Green Label Program.
    • Section 5.504.4.4.2 Carpet adhesive. All carpet adhesive shall meet the requirements of Table 5.504.4.1.

Finding Carpet-Product Databases

Many databases have been developed to list products that meet one or more of the various certifications or testing protocols:

State Policies

California has adopted various policies and laws to address carpet:

Carpet Recyclers

  • List of facilities where carpet may be taken for recycling. Always contact a facility before bringing material and ask the facility to provide a certificate of recycling verifying the reclamation of the carpet and the pounds of material diverted from the landfill.

Other Attributes

Besides the straight forward environmental performance of carpet, one can also consider what will be needed to maintain your carpet as well as how long it may last:

Last updated: March 3, 2014
Carpet Materials Management: http://www.calrecycle.ca.gov/Carpet/
Contact: carpet@calrecycle.ca.gov