Carpet cushion (that soft layer installed between a sub-floor and a carpet) is made from flexible polyurethane foam (FPF). Generally that foam is recycled scrap from the manufacture of furniture, such as couch cushions, or old carpet cushion itself. Healthy Building Network’s research into current recycling practices for FPF indicates that most post-consumer foam is contaminated with highly toxic flame retardants.

Prior to this research, discussions of FPF recycling have focused on the human health and environmental hazards posed by the flame retardant PentaBDE. PentaBDE was phased out by the foam industry a decade ago, but the flame retardants that have replaced it have similar hazards. Recycling workers, carpet installers and building occupants, particularly crawling children, can be exposed to these toxic chemicals as they are released from FPF carpet cushion over time.

The good news is that as manufacturers of furniture phase out the use of flame retardants in foam there is growing amount of FPF being recycled into carpet cushion that does not contain these flame retardants. More needs to be done to track and label these flame retardant-free foams to break the cycle of flame retardant-contaminated FPF being recycled over and over into new carpet cushion.  

What you can do:

Ideally, it would be possible to use recycled FPF carpet padding that is labeled as flame retardant-free, but at the moment, those products are not yet on the market. Keep your eye out for such products in the future.

In the meantime, consider whether or not your project requires a carpet at all. Other flooring choices are likely available within your budget. Consult Healthy Building Network’s flooring materials line-up that ranks different flooring materials by their health hazards.

In other areas, look for FPF-containing products (like upholstered furniture) that are labeled as flame retardant-free. Purchasing these products will make sure that when they are ultimately recycled at the end of their life, they won’t be contributing flame retardants to tomorrow’s recycled FPF products.

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