When industries pat themselves on the back, they take to the red carpet. However, in the floor covering business, that carpet is getting greener every day. From homes to the office and shopping malls, and even cars and aircrafts, the message is “reuse and recycle”. Flooring has moved beyond being just what we use beneath our feet to assisting in solving some of the planet’s most pressing environmental problems.
For some time now, the awareness has been that the best way to solve the plastic waste issue is to recycle and the carpet industry has arguably been at the forefront.
Plastic fibre such as nylon, polypropylene and polyester have enabled us to successfully place various discarded items such as plastic water bottles and plastic bags beneath our feet with important and ethically responsible results. If one considers that it takes 50 two-litre plastic bottles to make just one square metre of fibre – the result is a lot of recycling.
It makes sense, as the recycled material is generally more stain-resistant than materials such as wool and have been found to produce fewer emissions than virgin plastic. In recent years, we have seen countless, equally worthwhile innovations that have helped to further cement the industry’s place in the circular economy.
Fishing nets bring hope One of most noteworthy has to be the recent collaboration between German manufacturer, Object Carpet and the Ippolito Fleitz Group design studio, where carpet in as many as 100 different colours has been made using nylon yarn from recycled fishing nets.
The Meet X Beat is said to have an expressive force where its quality shines through, making it appear natural, crafted and distinctive in a tactile way. Words such as woolly, voluminous and graphic are said to describe the independent blend of the loop look. It is available in 13 colours, 11 of which are two-toned and two are space dyed. Flow and Glow, in which the loop quality has a three-dimensional sisal, creates a rhythmic effect intended to show its sophistication in detail, described as “grainy and fabric-like.
Econyl is a regenerated nylon fibre made from the synthetic waste comprising largely abandoned fishing nets. It has proven to perform as well as nylon but can be recycled over and over again. It is made predominantly from nets recovered by the International Health Seas Initiative, along with discarded industrial plastics, fabrics as well as old carpets. Manufactured by the Italian company, Aquafil since 2011, the production process involves cleaning and shredding the waste before depolymerising it to extract the nylon.
It is then polymerised and made into a new nylon yarn that’s used to make a variety of sustainable textile-based products with clothing and carpets featuring predominantly. It is said to also reduce the global warming impact of nylon by up to 90% when compared to oil-based materials.
Therefore, it will come as no surprise to learn that leather has begun to take second place to recycled waste. At the recent Green Carpet Awards in Milan, Italian actress Matilda De Angelis was captured wearing a cocktail dress, paired with Prada ankle boots, all entirely made from Aquafil’s Econyl.
A new green thread Mercedes Benz recently presented its new S-class model with floor mats with Econyl-regenerated nylon, setting a new trend for luxury vehicle manufacturers. As well as nets, much of the material used was destined for landfills, such as fabric remnants from carpet mills, all of which were collected and transformed into a new thread having the same properties as nylon from new raw materials.
Vehicle manufacturers have long been under pressure to increase their green credentials and critics would say it is not soon enough, bearing in mind that a third of carbon monoxide emissions come from the transport sector.
More needs to be done However, these days scrutiny goes way beyond exhaust emissions, with the focus now on the effects of production processes, from the power used by factories to ensuring parts and materials used have been ethically sourced.
The importance of reusing fishing nets can’t be underestimated. One study suggests that around 640 000 tons of nets are lost or discarded in our oceans killing marine life in what has been termed “ghost fishing”, in reference to all the abandoned nets, lines and traps that continue to trap and kill countless innocent marine animals.
The Ellen McArthur Foundation has credited the UK Flooring company Desso for their ambitious “Cradle to Cradle” strategy, where a corn by-product is used to produce a bio-degradable base for their woollen range.
Stef Kranendijk, Desso CEO until 2021, summed up their philosophy: “The idea is to become a service industry relying on a leasing system. Then you don’t buy the product, you pay for its use, which means materials remain our responsibility and of course, it’s not in our interest to see them being wasted.”
Networks launched in partnership with nylon supplier Aquafil and the Zoological Society of London have enabled the company – at the beginning of 2020 – to collect approximately 224 tons of fishing nets from local coastal villages to transform them into raw materials for its products. Roughly 60% of the elements used to create these carpets is currently sourced from recycled or bio-sourced materials.
Drive for Carbon neutrality The Ellen MacArthur Foundation and McKinsey carried out a joint study which estimated that the Circular Economy could boost Europe’s resource productivity by 3% by 2030, generating a net cost saving of 600 billion euros.
From an environmental perspective, reducing the millions of tons of waste material going into landfills and being incinerated will also dramatically reduce Europe’s greenhouse gas emissions. Friends of the Earth estimate that recycling in Europe would save an estimated 148 million tons of CO2, the equivalent of taking 47 million cars off the road per year.
“A lot more must be done to incentivise everyday product recyclability,” says Ward Mosmuller, the director of EU Affairs at the Dutch multinational DSM. Products such as carpets, mattresses and furniture need to become recyclable. Each year, these big bulky one-product polluters contribute: 30 million mattresses, 16 million tons of textiles, mainly clothes, 1.6 million tons of carpets and 10 million tons of reusable furniture.
Flooring industry The flooring industry’s support for carpet waste reuse and recycling opportunities in the UK continues to rise despite a 10% decrease in the total amount of carpet waste in 2019 compared to 2018, according to the Carpet Recycling UK’s October 2020 report. Since its formation in 2007, the association has diverted 1.25 million tons of carpet waste from landfills.