The waste and health problem under New Yorkers’ feet
Toxic carpets deter recycling, but lawmakers can fix that
Much of the carpet today is made of petroleum-based plastics and other synthetics (dyes, adhesives and stain protectants), which can contain an extraordinary range of chemicals. The Changing Markets Foundation analyzed12 samples from the nation’s six largest carpet manufacturers and found that all had at least one toxic chemical and many contained two or more. Some, such as PFAS and phthalates, present a range of serious health risks, including reproductive disorders and even cancer.
The toxic makeup of carpets compounds the solid-waste crisis. Though exacerbated by China’s recent refusal to accept American plastic waste, it is a result of our “throw it away” culture.
New research by Eunomia Research & Consulting details options to dramatically improve carpet recycling and reuse rates using this system. These include incentivizing the use of products that are more easily reusable and recyclable and toxic-free, as well as shifting the cost burden of disposal and recycling from taxpayers and municipalities to producers.
New York has a history and a head start with extended producer responsibility plans. Last year a law was passed that requires drug manufacturers to operate a take-back program to accept and dispose of covered medications. Now state Sen. Brian Kavanagh has introduced legislation that would require carpet manufacturers to coordinate with wholesalers, retailers and installers to recycle old carpet.
Beyond pharmaceuticals and carpets, producer responsibility systems could be used with a variety of consumer goods—paint, tires and electronics, to name a few. By embracing this philosophy, New York could become a worldwide leader in tackling our growing waste problem.