US NGO calls for ‘fundamental transformation’ of carpet design
Report recommends eliminating 44 chemicals, to aid recycling
9 November 2017 / United States
A report from the US NGO, Healthy Building Network, calls for "the fundamental transformation of the carpet industry" by eliminating the use of 44 chemicals.
Eliminating Toxic in Carpets: Lessons for the Future of Recycling examines the make up of carpet waste, and innovations in carpet composition, to determine the potential health and environmental impacts of recycling and using these materials in new carpet.
The report identifies 44 toxic substances frequently used in fibre, backing, adhesives and carpet pad, which should be replaced by alternatives.
Sources included trade association documents; Health Product Declarations (HPDs); Environmental Product Declarations (EPDs); Life Cycle Assessments (LCAs); patents; safety data sheets (SDSs); technical product documents; manufacturers; and government, academic, and other authoritative institutions.
The authors cross-referenced the ingredients found in these sources with HBN's Pharos Chemical and Materials Library (CML). This is an online catalogue of over 50,000 chemicals, polymers, metals, and other substances, that is "continuously updated to provide accurate health hazard data".
It uses 45 "authoritative scientific lists" for specific human and environmental health hazards and 29 restricted substance lists, including the California Department of Toxic Substance Control (DTSC)’s Candidate Chemicals list.
From this cross-referencing, HBN says it identified the most common substances with the highest health and environmental hazards, associated with carpet.
It makes the following recommendations:
banning the substances identified in the report and replacing them with other readily available, less toxic chemicals;
incentivising the design of fully recyclable carpets and removing substances that impede that process;
ensuring that toxic substances in carpet waste are identified and removed, before they are recycled into new consumer products including carpet;
increasing and enforcing protections for workers in the recycling industry; and
requiring that manufacturers and retailers fully and publicly disclose all material contents in new carpet.
Design for recyclability
The report recommends that manufacturers design carpets for recyclability, as current industry efforts to recycle are thwarted by the complicated structure of carpet. This includes plastics, toxic additives and the adhesives used in carpet installations.
It recommends the following chemicals classes are the first to be eliminated from carpet design:
PFAS stain repellants;
certain antimicrobials (especially triclosan and formaldehyde-based);
halogenated and other toxic flame retardants (including carpet pad); and
other endocrine disrupting chemicals, such as bisphenols and nonylphenol ethoxylates (especially in adhesives).
It also calls for full independent assessments of alternatives on the market to be completed "with haste".
"When safer, fully recyclable, fully assessed alternatives are on the market, there is no reason for carpet manufacturers to use toxic substances, or for anyone (from individuals to developers to retailers, cities and states), to buy, third parties to certify, or regulators to allow, carpets that contain them on the market," it says.
The report found that manufacturers consistently failed to fully disclose carpet ingredients, and that green certifications did not address some of the key substances of concern.
It says: "These gaps frustrate consumers' right to know if the carpet they're purchasing poses a threat to their health, and the health of their family."
HBN calls upon regulators to mandate the full disclosure of carpet ingredients as well as their risks to human health.
Although product certifiers have helped to reduce the carpet industry’s use of certain chemicals and increase its use of recycled content, the report says, many certifications are missing most of the toxic substances found in carpet and carpet adhesives.
"The vast majority of carpets on the market today are in some way certified ‘green’ or otherwise publicly rewarded, even though most of these contain toxic substances that the manufacturers have not disclosed to the consumer," it says.
The report recommends that carpet containing any of the 44 chemicals it identifies, should not qualify for the highest level of product certifications.
California bill (AB 1158, Chu) was signed into law on 15 October, which mandates recycling 24% of post-consumer carpet waste by 2020, a doubling of the state's current carpet recycling rate. It also ends the consumer subsidisation of carpet incineration.
In order to meet this target, without reintroducing toxic substances into the workplace and consumer products, the HBN report says that industry will need to "implement far more quality controls, and soon".