Wednesday, March 26, 2014

The Science of Eco-Friendly Furniture for Responsible Consumers

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Responsible consumers are able to do a number of things to cut down on their carbon footprint, such as reusing fabrics from old clothes (think thrift store vintage), reupholstering old furniture and staying away from vinyl at all costs but does everybody know why these things are important? The science behind responsible choices, such as furniture that off-gasses cancer causing VOCs, may be alarming enough to get America thinking. Something as simple as purchasing a new sofa can impact the environment in a number of ways depending on the material it’s made out of.

Bad material choices start with endangered species.
Too many consumers don’t know about the endangered wood species that make up their beautiful dining room table. Reclaimed wood or wood with a certificate from the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) certified are the environmentally friendly options. Notice that a “chain of custody” (CoC) certification is not the same thing as an FSC, so don’t deal with retailers who promise this CoC.

Don’t close your eyes to the problem of buying exotic tropical hardwoods like Brazilian Cherry. This wood has become the number one export in Brazil, which is in extremely high demand and goes toward the support of illegal logging in the Amazon Rain Forest.  With all of the alternatives  on the market not contributing to the loss of unique ecosystems and the ever greater threat of global warming, why choose endangered wood?

Why vinyl should be a figment of our shameful past.
Vinyl is cheap, but it costs the environment a pretty penny. All of the vinyl patio furniture, table cloths, and toys are destined to lay in landfills till the end of time, or until they start to degrade. The degradation of vinyl gives off a poisonous gas that harms the liver, lungs, kidneys and cardiovascular system according to the EPA and the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry.

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Vinyl can seem like a harmless plastic, but it’s not a plastic at all. It’s just a chemical compound that is made using an extremely hazardous waste known as vinyl chloride. Vinyl chloride is used to make the vinyl, but interestingly enough it is found in landfills. You might expect to find it near the manufacturing plants and hazardous waste sites, but the fact that it is found in landfills has tipped researchers off to the degradation of vinyl. How could we expect the apple to fall so far from the tree?

Shifting values with our power as consumers.
Part of the planetary health puzzle involves choosing wisely when making purchases and then again when something breaks or is grown tired of. Choosing durable, eco-friendly furniture that will last through generations will stop the landfills from piling up choices.
 
Furniture covers can extend the life of quality outdoor furniture and keep it out of the landfills for a longer period. In the technological age that we are in, is it really a surprise that eco-friendly options exist? Look for breathable fabrics like this alternative to vinyl or vinyl coated polyester covers that only breathe if vents are built into them.

The mindset of making repairs rather than dumping the old pieces for a new model also must be adopted. This mindset along with good choices in picking out the furniture in the first place and protecting it from wear can go a long way in reducing environmental impact.

Don’t get too excited about your VOC-free hairspray yet.
Volatile organic compounds (VOCs) are everywhere. They are a family of chemicals that are off-gassed from manufactured products, the most common in households are flame retardants and formaldehyde. Cancer, birth defects, and endocrine disruption have all been linked to VOC consumption. Going forward, buy furniture certified by Greenguard which ensures low toxiciity or buy used goods.

Lisa Henfield is an environmental activist and freelance writer. She contributes to Mother Earth Living and spends her days thinking about her city’s carbon footprint. 
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