Refresh 2: How to Choose Better Carpet.

When choosing carpet with the environment and health in mind, the answers to questions such as “synthetic or natural fibres?” or “what chemical treatments have been used?” aren’t necessarily as clear-cut as they might appear.

Natural fibres, like wool, are not always necessarily better than synthetic fibres from an environmental perspective. Wool fibres can be treated with solvents and detergents during processing, and effluent from scouring operations can contribute to water pollution if it isn’t properly treated.

However, natural fibres may have natural stain resistant properties, eliminating the need for nasty stain-repellent chemical treatments, and should only emit low amounts of volatile organic compounds (VOCs). Natural fibres are also renewable resources and biodegradable.

During manufacture, synthetic fibre production can result in the release of sulphur or nitrogen oxides into the atmosphere, contributing to air pollution. Foam used for a carpet backing may also have been manufactured using ozone-depleting chemicals, or may present a risk to human health through the inclusion of potentially carcinogenic compounds such as 1,3-butadiene.

There are also chemical treatments and dyes to consider. Stain-repellent and fire-retardant treatments typically contain a class of compounds called polybrominated diphenyl ethers, or PBDEs, which have been found in measurable levels in human blood and breast milk. They’ve been linked to thyroid and hormone disruption, and other chemicals classed as ‘flame retardants’ have been linked to cancer.

The best materials for carpeting from an environmental perspective are recycled materials. These minimise the amount of waste generated and cut down on resources used. Third-party certification schemes and ecolabel programmes like GECA make finding better carpet products much easier, since they take all of the potential environmental, health and social impacts into account.

Refresh content provided by our Education Partner, Good Environmental Choice Australia.

Refresh No.1: What’s in your paint?

The benefits of paints with a lower environmental and health impact are obvious, but how much do we know about what’s actually in the average tin?

Paint consists of three basic ingredients – pigment, binder and solvent – plus a range of additives. Each ingredient can potentially have a negative environmental or health impact over the life cycle of the paint. Pigments, for example, provide the colour and opacity in paint, and titanium dioxide is often used for this purpose. Unfortunately, its manufacturing process can be environmentally harmful: it contains high embodied energy, is a limited resource and results in unwanted air and water emissions.

The solvent evaporates as paint dries, and if an organic solvent has been used (as opposed to a water base), it most likely releases volatile organic compounds (VOCs) into the air. This contributes to poor indoor air quality and a range of respiratory symptoms.

Paints may also contain biocides for preventing bacterial or fungal growth in the can or on the painted surface. While these are necessary, it’s important to exclude any that are carcinogenic or otherwise significantly toxic.

Third-party certification, such as the Good Environmental Choice Australia ecolabel, is evidence that environmental or health claims made by a paint manufacturer are verifiable and that the product is a better choice. The GECA Paints and Coatings standard places strict limits on substances such as titanium dioxide and ensures VOCs are kept to a minimum.

Refresh content provided by our Education Partner, Good Environmental Choice Australia.