There were all of those jokes about orange shag back in the 1960's - actually those were the years when orange and shaggy were in, the jokes started about ten years later - and quite a number of unkind references to avocado green floor coverings after that. Stay tuned, the beige Berber jibes are scheduled to start soon.
Carpet, however, is no laughing matter and up to now it hasn't been deserving of much respect from the ecologically conscious. Traditional carpeting is not only ungreen, it is ungreen on so many levels.
First, most carpets are synthetic - nylon, polyester, acrylic - all of which are petroleum based products and thus not sustainable. The synthetic fibers are backed by materials such as latex, polyvinyl chloride (PVC), 4-phenylcylclohexene, or polyurethane which are also petroleum based as are the adhesives that are used to secure carpeting to floors in some applications and the latex padding used in others.
Then these carpets are treated, as part of the manufacturing process with dyes and with chemicals to repel stains, and retard mildew or fire
In addition to being non-sustainable or renewable, these materials - carpet, backing, adhesives and chemical treatments - tend to off-gas volatile organic chemicals (VOCs) to which many people are sensitive. They can develop a range of symptoms including runny and itchy eyes, breathing problems, skin reactions, headaches, and so forth. Even worse, SB latex which is used in 90 percent of carpets is a suspected carcinogen.
Persons with allergies - even if not chemical allergies - are frequently urged to avoid living in environments decorated with carpet or heavy draperies because these materials are prone to collecting and holding dust, pollen, pet dander, and dust mites and must be cleaned frequently.
And, traditional methods for cleaning carpets use petroleum products which themselves can outgas for a period of time after use.
Finally, while carpet seems to have a pretty short life in the house, it lasts forever in a landfill and, until recently, not a lot of effort has been expended toward recycling it.
Even with all of these drawbacks and with the cyclical nature of home decorating, carpet still covers 70 percent of residential floors. Thankfully, some manufacturers are now concentrating on materials and processes that make their products more worthy of environmental respect. We will explore these alternatives soon.