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Sustainability in the carpet sector

by Ofentse Sefolo
Sustainability in the carpet sector

When compared to other flooring materials, carpets have relatively low recycling rates and the resource intensity is high. While policy frameworks need to be altered to make a circular carpet industry a viable option, there are many other initiatives that carpet manufacturers are undertaking to reduce their carbon footprint and make their products more sustainable.

FLOORS in Africa magazine spoke to a few people in the local flooring market to discuss green manufacturing techniques, how the recyclability of carpets has improved over the years, and their advice to specifiers when it comes to lifecycle costing. Here’s what they had to say.

Nickey Pringle from FloorworX says that the way we think about manufacturing techniques has changed.

“The 150 year old linear model often referred to as the ‘take, make and waste’ model once seemed to make sense. This is no longer the case. Some of our brands have been applying Cradle to Cradle* principles since 2008. Cradle to Cradle is a concept that is modelled on nature and sees materials as nutrients which should circulate in healthy, safe flows,” says Nickey.

Marcus Nouwens from Monn adds that as manufacturers, they have a duty to uphold sound environmental principles and to strive to reduce the impact of their products during their service life. Occasionally, these efforts result in cost savings which directly benefit the end consumer.

“Our nylon yarn supplier is able to re-polymerise both pre- and post-consumer nylon waste, such as reclaimed nylon pile fibres and end-of-life fishing nets, in order to provide a closed loop yarn product flow. All internal production waste produced by Monn is accumulated and shipped to Aquafil for reprocessing into Nylon feedstock,” says Marcus.

Edward Colle from Belgotex says that making carpets greener can be described as ‘a layered cake’ with many different elements to sustainability.

“The raw materials used to make carpets are typically a by-product of crude oil, which is sourced from petrochemical companies. While we can’t influence their R&D efforts, international pressure for sustainable alternatives has led to some interesting prototypes and concepts being presented. Internally, we upcycle 99% of the waste we produce and add that back into our products through either the yarn extrusion process, within the underlay of the carpet, or as an alternative backing option for tufted tiles,” says Edward.

Dave Keefer from KBAC Flooring says that, traditionally, the push has been to incorporate as much recycled yarn as possible into the production of a carpet, but if the production process and other added materials in this loop do not also change, the overall result will not aid this goal.

“The introduction of such ratings as EPD (Environmental Product Declaration) provide the product ingredients and environmental impacts that happen during the entire life of a product. It’s like the ingredient and nutrition labels on food. Instead of calories and recommended daily allowances, an EPD shows things like raw material extraction, energy use, air, soil and water emissions, and water use and waste generation,” adds Dave.

Molly Persadh from Van Dyck Flooring points out that the company’s manufacturing techniques over the years have contributed to making carpets greener. “Choice of material is an important factor when it comes to producing more sustainable carpets. We take into consideration the impact that the origin of the material has on the environment, including packaging. All our fibres are sourced locally, and both factories are ISO 14001 certified and committed to environmentally friendly manufacturing processes,” says Molly.

The market demands sustainable and recyclable soft flooring
The market has expressed increased demand for sustainable and recyclable soft flooring products. Marcus says that Monn has prioritised this by developing new products and processes that minimise the effects on the environment, but the local market hasn’t developed to such a degree that waste flooring recollection mechanisms are in operation.

“In contrast, European markets already have established waste recollection and distribution mechanisms which allow manufacturers to develop a closed-loop sustainable product flow. Sustainable and recyclable products also tend to carry a premium cost over normal flooring products. Additional costs, whether due to development, production or raw materials are incurred when manufacturing recycled and sustainable products. However, our local market heavily prioritises price points, so there is an unwillingness to accept the higher costs of such products. This challenges us to research and experiment to find new ways to provide sustainable products cost effectively,” says Marcus.

Edel Group

Tips for specifiers to cost the lifecycle of carpets for clients
When asked what tips they would give specifiers when it comes to costing their carpets in terms of lifecycle as regards maintenance and determining the longevity of carpets, Nickey says that there are various factors to keep mind.

“Choosing the best flooring for a particular facility includes analysing the work the occupants do in the space, how often they do it and how each flooring option will hold up. Aesthetics, as well as maintenance, cost and any special requirements, such as slip-resistance, anti-static, hygiene etc. should also be taken into account. Walk-off mats at entrances are a definite criteria to consider when costing carpets,” says Nickey.

“If the requirement is for the product to look good and do its job for a defined period, then an adequate maintenance programme should be part of the package. The better you look after something, the longer it will last,” says Edward.

Dave adds that it’s important to always ensure the right product, colour and design are used in the correct space.

“Fitting a solid wood in a wet area, a residential poly-propylene carpet in a commercial environment or a light colour carpet adjacent to a dirty street entrance is never a good idea. Rely on the professionals, both interior designers and flooring installers, to recommend the products that will practically live up to the environment they will be installed in. Don’t be scared to make use of more than one type of flooring to design a space,” says Dave.

Molly says there are several factors that can affect how long your carpet lasts, the most important being following a proper maintenance plan.

“Vacuuming is a necessity for the greatest longevity of your carpets and high traffic areas should be vacuumed daily. The lifespan of a carpet can last a short time or as long as you want. If your carpet is well maintained, it can be there for many years,” says Molly.

Marcus points out that specifiers need to look at the performance of the product they wish to specify.

“A poly-propylene carpet used in busy commercial office spaces tends to flatten rapidly and wear out. A nylon carpet tile, on the other hand, has the ability to withstand heavy traffic and can achieve a heavy commercial location grading. By the time you need to replace a nylon tile, you would probably have replaced a poly-propylene carpet twice or more. Poly-propylene may result in a short term saving but in the long run, nylon is more cost effective,” concludes Marcus.

Full thanks and acknowledgement are given to www.belgotex.co.za, www.floorworx.co.za, www.kbacflooring.co.za, www.monn.co.za and www.vandyckcarpets.com for some of the information contained in this article.

*Cradle to Cradle is a registered trademark

Main image:  Aquafil

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