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New Demands Made for Circular Economy-compliant Carpets in Light of Report Revealing High Levels of Toxins

For the purposes of the October report regarding the European carpets market, samples were selected from several large European carpets suppliers. It is reported that a number of chemical groups were found in the carpet samples, including phthalates, flame retardants and per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFASs), as well as indications of antimicrobials, isocyanates, nonylphenol and bisphenol A (BPA). Two carpets manufactured by a producer with factories in France, the UK and Belgium, tested positive for tris(1,3-dichloro-2-propyl) phosphate (TDCPP), a chlorinated flame retardant considered as a suspected carcinogen by the EU’s regulatory body for chemicals, the European Chemicals Agency. They also both contained the chlorinated flame retardant Tris (chloroisopropyl) phosphate (TCPP). The study notes that both flame retardants allegedly pose potential health risk to babies and small children. While these substances are restricted in children’s toys through the Toy Safety Directive, this limit does not apply to carpets.

Particularly alarming, according to the report, has been the detection of the phthalate DEHP in one of the carpets tested. Its use is said to be authorised in recycled Polyvinyl chloride (PVC) for carpets until 2019. Commonly used as a plasticiser for PVC carpet binders or backing, it is classified by the EU as toxic for reproduction and endocrine-disrupting for human health and the environment. These findings are said to be worrying in respect of those who are exposed to these products on a daily basis, even more so because the report states that there are many other sources of exposure in indoor environments.

The report, published in October 2018, as well as the report on toxic toys which was covered in our Regulatory Alert-EU entitled ‘Toxic Toys on the Market As a Result of European Legislative Inconsistencies’ seem to suggest that despite the fact that some toxic substances are banned or restricted at EU level, they make their way into certain products through “the back door” as it were, namely, through recycling exemptions foreseen by EU legislation. In light of the discrepancies revealed in the EU legislation on chemicals, products and waste, the report has called on lawmakers to adopt certain recommendations for a change in the overall policy. The report urges the EU to expand bans on hazardous chemicals and close loopholes on how chemicals are addressed in different product groups. It recommends putting an end to exemptions for chemicals in recycled materials through the upcoming expected revision of the interface between chemicals, products and waste legislation, including regulating chemical groups instead of individual chemicals.

Manufacturers of carpets in Hong Kong whose products are destined for the European market may like to know that of the 15 European carpet samples tested, no toxins were detected in three carpets. This is indicative of the fact that safer alternatives for most toxic substances already exist. The joint statement of 5 December 2018 reiterates the findings of the October report and suggests the introduction of a “green carpet mark”, similar to the current energy labelling provisions for certain electronic goods, to ensure that carpets do not pose a health risk and are collected, reused and fully recycled. It further underlines that current carpet recycling rates across Europe average only 3%. Unlike the packaging industry, which is subject to extended producer responsibility schemes, carpet manufacturers presently have no financial incentive to recycle. The statement foresees a mandatory disclosure of ingredients so as to arm consumers with the information to make better choices. 

Hong Kong’s carpet exporters to the EU may find it interesting to know that the publishing of this report is not far removed in time from an earlier report (mentioned above) revealing the presence of toxic toys on the European market. However, with European elections and a new European Commission taking office next year, it is unlikely that new EU legislation will be proposed within the next two years. In this sense, the joint statement of 5 December 2018 is primarily aimed at national governments who are expected to take the lead. Hong Kong manufacturers are advised to keep a close eye on national developments in the field. Nonetheless, in the long run, these findings could act as a catalyst and kick-start legislative intervention on the European level that would inevitably apply to imported carpets of any origin, including those from Hong Kong, being sold in the EU.

Content provided by Picture: HKTDC Research
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