A bed to sleep in, a table to eat on, an overstuffed, reclining chair to read the Sunday paper in—your home furnishings define who you are, but also come with a host of environmental impacts, mostly stemming from the materials used to construct them. Luckily, there are ways to give your home decor a green makeover. Read on for the facts.
Natural textiles used to make couches, such as leather, wool, and down, may appear eco-friendly, but environmentalists and animal-lovers would argue otherwise. Raising animals for these materials requires a great deal of feed, land, water, and fossil fuels. Factory farms generate 130 times the amount of excrement as the entire human population; the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has noted that livestock pollution is the most dangerous threat to American waterways. Enteric fermentation—or livestock belching and flatulence—is another serious environmental problem as it is a major contributor to global climate change. In New Zealand, for example, 90 percent of the nation’s greenhouse gas emissions (methane, in particular) result from enteric fermentation, primarily from sheep.
Most couches use foam to fill cushions. Foam—a form of polyurethane (part of the urethane family of chemicals)—can contain many toxins, including (but not limited to) VOCs, formaldehyde, and benzene. The construction of approximately 2 pounds of polyurethane rigid foam requires nearly 800 pounds of water, 1.5 pounds of crude oil, and 0.9 pounds coal, and produces waste consisting of 9 pounds of carbon dioxide, as well as other solid and liquid waste byproducts.
Read more at GreenYour Couch
There's a good chance that at least a few chairs and tables in your home are constructed of wood. And unless it's faux, that wood came from ... you guessed it ... a forest. As noted above, forests are a dwindling natural resource, which has serious consequences for the planet. Fortunately, your tables and chairs needn't skimp on style or materials to be sustainable. Get some green ideas here.
Learn more at GreenYour Table
Learn more at GreenYour Chair
Compared to other flooring materials, such as hardwood floors, carpet has the shortest life expectancy at 11 years. US carpet manufacturers supplied 45 percent of the world’s carpet—more than 2 billion square yards in 2005. That's almost enough carpet to cover the entire state of Connecticut! Consumers have a variety of choices in face fiber and backing, with some having more environmental impact than others. Popular face fibers are nylon, polyester, olefin, and acrylic. These synthetic fibers are used in more than 99 percent of carpets. Handmade rugs tend to be made from natural fibers, such as wool and cotton. All synthetic fibers are made from petroleum, a non-renewable resource. Not only are these petrochemicals potentially hazardous to human health, but using them also contributes to ecological hazards, such as leaks and spills, related to oil exploration and refining.
Learn more at GreenYour Carpet and Rugs
- benzene: A flammable solvent used to make many household products, including detergents, nylon, paint, furniture wax, lacquer, resins, and oil (although its use in many other household products was banned in 1978). It is poisonous when ingested.
- formaldehyde: A flammable reactive gas belonging to the VOC family of chemicals. It is widely used in personal care products, building materials, insulation, and home furnishings. Ingestion of the chemical can cause severe physical reactions, including coma, internal bleeding, and death. The US Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) considers it a probable human carcinogen.
- methane: A greenhouse gas released into the atmosphere from both natural and man-made sources, including landfills, agricultural activities, wastewater treatment, and coal mining. Once introduced into the atmosphere, methane can exist for 9 to 15 years. It’s more effective in trapping heat in the atmosphere (global warming) than fellow greenhouse gas, carbon dioxide.
- polybrominated diphenyl ether (PBDE): Foam and other furniture fillings are commonly treated with fire-retardants, such as polybrominated diphenyl ethers, or PBDEs, which have been linked to brain and reproductive system disorders. A healthier alternative is wool, which is naturally fire resistant.
- volatile organic compounds (VOCs): Organic solvents that easily evaporate into the air. VOCs are emitted by thousands of products, including paints, cleaning supplies, pesticides, building materials and furnishings, and may cause immediate and long-term health problems.
- Cows are Cool - Leather: No Friend of the Earth
- Save the Sheep! - The Environment
- The Green Guide - What is Polyurethane?
- Old House Web - Life Expectancy of Household Components
- Carpet and Rug Institute - Industry Statistics
- US Census Bureau - Quick Facts
- Green Seal - Choose Green Carpet Report Page 3
- The Green Guide - The Green Guide’s Carpet Product Report
- Green Seal - Choose Green Carpet Report Pages 3-4
- Green Home - benzene
- Green Home - formaldehyde
- The Green Guide - Wood Furniture: The Problems
- US Environmental Protection Agency - Methane
- WorldWatch Institute - Furniture: Comfort Without Consequence
- Ideal Bite - Eco Mattresses
- Montana State University Extension Service - Healthy Indoor Air for America’s Homes
- US Environmental Protection Agency - Introduction to Indoor Air Quality