Eleven billion square feet of carpet is sold per year in the United States – the largest market in the world and home to some of the largest carpet producers.
Carpet manufacture, use, disposal, and recycling can adversely impact human health and the environment in various ways throughout the lifecycle, depending on the chemicals and materials used. Some volatile organic compounds that can be released from the carpet into the indoor air are carcinogens or reproductive and developmental toxicants. Other hazardous chemicals can contaminate indoor dust, resulting in exposures. Workers in carpet manufacturing and recycling facilities can be exposed to carcinogens, asthmagens, and reproductive and developmental toxicants. An estimated 3.5% of all waste disposed of in U.S. landfills is discarded carpet – about four billion pounds. Less than 5% of carpet is recycled, and less than 1% is turned back into carpet.
Health Care Without Harm identified some of the most dangerous chemicals and materials in carpet and created criteria that help institutions avoid those chemicals of concern while promoting carpet recycling. The criteria target specific materials, chemicals, and classes of chemicals for elimination due to a range of concerns, including carcinogenicity, reproductive and developmental toxicity, persistence, bioaccumulation, and ecotoxicity, among others. The criteria include a recyclability requirement and seek to drive greater transparency around carpet content.
Many leading health systems are members of Practice Greenhealth, our membership organization. Practice Greenhealth provides tools, resources, and a community of practice to implement sustainable practices in health care. The Healthy Carpet goal helps member hospitals facilitate the purchasing of products that meet our criteria and achieve safer materials benchmarks.