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The Problem With Activated Carbon

Updated: Apr 6, 2022

Creating air pollution to make products for cleaning air seems a bit strange, right? Unfortunately, there are many air purification companies doing just that.

Most air purifiers on the market today contain activated carbon filters.

The majority of activated carbon is produced from coal obtained through mining. This pollutes waterways, releases harmful greenhouse gasses, and destroys natural habitats. Mining also harms the health of those living nearby. For example, breathing in the air near coal mines is associated with cancer and lung diseases.

Activated carbon can also be made from coconut shells. Air purification companies have touted this as the "environmentally friendly" option. This is quite misleading. While avoiding coal mining does slightly reduce overall pollution emissions, the process of making activated carbon (from coal or coconut shells) is where the real problems lie.

Burn Baby Burn

The first step in producing activated carbon is creating charcoal. The base materials, whether coal or coconut shells, are burned at high temperatures. Coconut shells are often burned in open pits that release clouds of smoke into the air. This damages the atmosphere and directly contributes to global warming.

The second step is activation. Activating charcoal changes its structure, allowing it to more effectively adsorb or "catch" pollutants. Charcoal is placed in large kilns or ovens and heated to trigger activation. This is an intensive process,

requiring large amounts of energy from nearby power plants. These plants emit harmful greenhouse gases to produce this energy. By requiring so much energy, activation contributes indirectly to global warming.

Because most activated carbon is made overseas, there is the additional environmental cost of shipping the material to the customer. Think of all the vehicles necessary to get a product across the world. Ships, planes, and cars all emit harmful greenhouse gases.

The Damage In Numbers

Let’s measure the environmental impact of energy use and greenhouse gas emissions in miles driven by the average passenger vehicle. If the 3 million metric tons of activated carbon produced yearly were all made from coal, then that’s equivalent to 71,626,139,320 miles driven or approximately 772 trips to the sun. In comparison, the average American drives around 14,623 miles per year. If we can stop using activated carbon it is equivalent to taking about 5 million cars off the road or getting rid of all the drivers in two cities the size of Los Angeles.

On the flip side, if all activated carbon was made using the “environmentally friendly” method, that’s equivalent to 57,300,911,456 miles or 618 trips to the sun driven by those same cars. While there is a difference of 154 trips to the sun, it’s still a staggeringly high number. It's clear that removing coal mining from the equation does not eliminate the environmental damage associated with activated carbon.

It’s important to note that these values are just in the cost of producing activated carbon. These filters also cause environmental damage after use. Most manufacturers recommend replacing activated carbon filters every 6 months. This not only causes more landfill waste, it also drives up the need for activated carbon and the environmentally harmful processes used to make it.

The actual eco-friendly solution

Luckily, there is a way to purify and remove odors from your air without contributing to air pollution: AirPrizm. AirPrizm uses PAT, a material with an 84% lower global warming potential than activated carbon. With AirPrizm’s 4 year life span and recycle program, that’s less waste going to the landfill too! Not to mention we know how to recycle it into material which works as good as new. That's why we want it back when system is done working for you.

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