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Healthy Building Network's report on post-consumer carpet feedstocks calls for eliminating over 40 highly toxic chemicals in carpets that threaten public health and impede recycling. These toxics are known to cause respiratory disease, heart attacks, cancer, and asthma, and impair children's developmental health. The report outlines strategies to protect public health and the environment by improving product transparency, eliminating dangerous chemicals from carpets, and increasing carpet recycling rates. It also reveals surprising efforts in the industry to remove many of these toxic substances from carpet design.
Asphalt (also known as asphalt concrete, bitumen, or road tar) is the most common paving material by far, accounting for a 92 percent share of the 2.5 million miles of roads and highways in the United States. Reclaiming and reusing asphalt has many benefits, including waste prevention, reduction of greenhouse gas emissions, and lower lifecycle impacts compared to virgin asphalt material use. Keys to increasing the recycling of asphalt and its attendant environmental benefits include simplifying the designs of asphalt mixes, reducing toxic additives in production, tracking materials from production through use and recycling, testing incoming materials for contaminants, and avoiding the addition of cutback solvents and other toxic rejuvenating agents.
Polyethylene is the world’s most common plastic. It is used in packaging, food and beverage containers, and consumer products. Building product manufacturers sometimes use post-consumer recycled polyethylene bags and bottles in pipes and plastic lumber. This scrap usually has minimal contents of concern, but products like detergents stored in plastic packaging can remain. So-called “bio-degradation” agents in plastic bags also contaminate this feedstock and should never be used. The plastics recycling industry is developing protocols to screen out residual contaminants. Of greatest concern: Most polyethylene goes unrecycled in the United States due to problems in supply chain controls and the low price of virgin resins. This report examines ways to optimize the use of post-consumer polyethylene in building materials.
Healthy Building Network’s research into current recycling practices for flexible polyurethane foam (FPF) indicates that most post-consumer feedstocks are contaminated with highly toxic flame retardants. Discussions of recycling FPF have centered around the human health and environmental hazards posed by the flame retardant PentaBDE, which the foam industry phased out a decade ago. But the flame retardants that have replaced PentaBDE present similar concerns. Manufacturers incorporate flame retardant-laden post-consumer FPF into new products, primarily bonded carpet cushion. Recycling and installation workers and building occupants, particularly crawling children, can be exposed to these toxic chemicals. The recent emergence of pre-consumer FPF scrap that is free of flame retardants is a great step toward a safer, more valuable feedstock, but more work is needed to track and label flame retardant-free FPF to ensure that future post-consumer foam is also flame retardant-free.
The recycling industry has made significant strides toward a closed loop material system in which the materials that make up new products today will become the raw material used to manufacture products in the future. However, contamination in some sources of recycled content raw material (“feedstock”) contain potentially toxic substances that can devalue feedstocks, impede growth of recycling markets, and harm human and environmental health. Since May 2014, the Healthy Building Network, in collaboration with StopWaste and the San Francisco Department of Environment, has been evaluating 11 common post-consumer recycled-content feedstocks used in the manufacturing of building products. This paper is a distillation of that larger effort, and provides analysis on two major feedstocks found in building products: recycled PVC and glass cullet. This research partnership seeks to provide manufacturers, purchasers, government agencies, and the recycling industry with recommendations for optimizing the use of recycled content feedstocks in building products in order to increase their value, marketability and safety. This report was prepared in support of a research session at the 2015 Greenbuild conference in Washington, DC.
Global industry has made progress toward a world in which more efficient use of resources, including recycling, helps to reduce impacts on the natural systems that support life. However, contamination of recycled-content raw material with potentially toxic substances reduces feedstock value, impedes growth of recycling rates, and can endanger human and environmental health. This paper provides findings and recommendations about how progress in resource use efficiency and recycling can occur along with the production of healthier building products. This paper is based on the review of eleven common recycled-content feedstocks used to manufacture building materials that are sold in California’s San Francisco Bay Area. It provides manufacturers and purchasers of building products, government agencies, and the recycling industry with recommendations for optimizing recycled-content feedstocks in building products to increase their value, marketability and safety.
Source separation of waste streams and toxic content restrictions are crucial actions toward optimizing the value of recycled feedstocks in building products. HBN’s research on glass waste – known as cullet – reveals the multitude of economic and environmental benefits of these practices. The ability of fiber glass insulation manufacturers to incorporate cullet increases; the wasteful landfilling of discarded glass (nationally, only 28% is recycled) decreases. Manufacturers need less energy to produce insulation, leading to lower greenhouse gas emissions. Workers, surrounding neighborhoods, and the environment at large are exposed to fewer toxic contaminants. Post-Consumer Cullet in California is the second in a series of Healthy Building Network reports for the Optimizing Recycling collaboration.
New HBN research reveals that legacy toxic hazards are being reintroduced into our homes, schools and offices in recycled vinyl content that is routinely added to floors and other building products. Legacy substances used in PVC products, like lead, cadmium, and phthalates, are turning up in new products through the use of cheap recycled content. Funding for research on post-consumer PVC feedstock was provided by StopWaste and donors to the Healthy Building Network (HBN). It was conducted using an evaluative framework to optimize recycling developed by StopWaste, the San Francisco Department of the Environment, and HBN. This briefing paper on post-consumer recycled PVC is a prequel to a forthcoming white paper by this new collaboration.