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Eco-Friendly Furnitureby Starre Vartan
Your home should be a haven — a safe place for you and a tribute to the world you live in. Unfortunately our homes contain some of the most polluted air we breathe- and some of those toxins come from our furniture. H3 Environmental's Mary Cordaro says you can green your furnishings without giving up the comforts of home. Start with a bedroom, she says, and build from there: “If you take small steps, then eventually your whole lifestyle has been turned around."
Save a Tree
Why: Nearly 40 million acres of forest are cut down each year, releasing vast amounts of greenhouse gases into the air. Some of these forests are managed responsibly, while others make up endangered or fragile ecosystems. Old-growth forests in Canada, South American and Asia are especially at risk.
What to do and where to go: Consider buying used furniture, but avoid pieces that contain vinyl (PVC). One of the by-products of PVC production is dioxin, a known carcinogen. Also avoid polyurethane foam, and anything that may contain lead-based paint. When buying new, look for wood products bearing the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) (http://www.fscus.org/) seal indicating they come from sustainably managed forests. When making a major furniture purchase, ask where the wood was harvested and what country it comes from.
Cross the Finish Line
Why: It’s hard to know whether the stains and finishes on a piece of new wood furniture contains harmful, off-gassing chemicals.
What to do and where to go: Shop at unfinished wood furniture stores and finish the items yourself using plant-based, natural finishes or no-VOC (volatile organic compounds) paints. You can find these products at most hardware stores these days, just ask. You’ll cut down on the chemicals in your life and save money, too.
Cut the Carpet
Why: Wall-to-wall carpeting may look and feel nice but the nylon variety is made from a chemical stew that takes a long time to fully off-gas. Also, carpeting often contains VOCs, which may have short- and long-term adverse health effects, including irritating airways, exacerbating asthma and damaging growing kidneys and lungs (children's bodies are less able to handle toxins due to their smaller size). Some VOC's are considered carcinogenic. According to the EPA (http://www.epa.gov/iaq/voc.html), VOC levels can be five times higher indoors than outside.
What to do and where to go: If you love the look of wall-to-wall, opt for all-wool carpeting with natural fiber backing made of jute or latex. Check into other kinds of flooring, such as recycled-content tile, cork, sustainably harvested wood, real linoleum, and area rugs made with natural materials like jute, sisal, bamboo and seagrass.
Why: Dyes, pesticides and synthetic fertilizers go into making conventional cotton bedding, both to grow the cotton, and to color it later.
What to do and where to go: You spend a third of your life in bed; it might as well be good for you! Choose organic linens and mattresses made with 100% certified-organic and chemical-free materials. "When I got environmentally friendly pillows, mattresses and sheets, my colds and allergy symptoms were dramatically reduced," attests Gay Browne, Founder of Greenopia.
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