Ethical home furnishings are the next big shift in saving the planet and protecting our resources, and just as importantly preventing toxin release into our homes.
It is not the most obvious consideration when deliberating our carbon footprint and impact on our environment, but what we fill our homes with is hugely important when it comes to sustainable living. It can be challenging to understand exactly what is meant by this when we are talking about home furnishings so I looked into the options and methods by which we can transform or introduce lower impact materials into the living space as well as protect ourselves from the harmful chemicals many products are made with.
What exactly is meant by sustainable or ethical home furnishings?
We need to take a closer look at what materials our furnishings are made of. They should be of low or no environmental impact made from are renewable, recyclable and non-toxic materials. Do they create pollution when being made? Do they have a positive impact such as being fair trade or recycled? Is the product built to last? These are all valid things to consider prior to purchasing any item.
How can furniture affect our health?
An increasing number of studies are shedding light on the surprisingly pervasive sources of chemicals that may harm human health, and more and more are showing that harmful toxins can be released from our furniture!
What to avoid and why
One of the most used fillers for cushioning (sofas, chairs, cushions) in the world is polyurethane foam. This plastic material contains methyloxirane and toluene which are both carcinogenic and to be avoided.
Also steer clear of anything made with vinyl (PVC) which is produced with the highly toxic chemical dioxin. Investigate as to whether your goods are made with untreated fabrics, since stain and fire resistant chemicals are linked to a slew of health and environmental risks such as cancer in humans, especially children and fatal hyperthyroidism in domestic cats; in a nutshell they are poisonous toxins.
Lyocell is a newer alternative made from cellulose, but requires chemically intensive processing, and is also linked to deforestation.
Polyester is another ugly synthetic as it is usually petroleum-based. So, unless it has been made from recycled bottles or fibre, don’t go there.
Avoid down unless it has been ethically generated as animal welfare is a potential issue here.
Leather is an obvious no-go if you are vegan, however it is a heavy duty fabric which is very durable so is used heavily in furniture production; most of which employs chromium and other toxic chemicals in the tanning and dying processes, and child labour is often involved. If you do want to opt for leather look out for eco-certified versions.
Avoid plastics such as polyethylene, polyacrylates, and polycarbonates. Even if they’re made from recycled plastic or are theoretically recyclable, plastic furniture is typically not accepted by recycling facilities.
Chrome-finished metal, because it is made with highly toxic and carcinogenic hexavalent chromium.
One of the worst household items for toxicity and one which we spend most time using is the mattress. This is a horrible thing to consider but most mattresses contain fire retardants, volatile organic compounds, and formaldehyde which release gas into our air while we sleep on them. So choosing an eco-mattress is paramount.
Ethical Home Furnishings
Tips for keeping your impact low and protecting your health
There are plenty of alternatives to all of the above, sometimes we must see the idea of purchasing ethical home furnishings as an investment as they can be more expensive, however, they are built to last, have a lower negative impact on the environment as well as our health. All things considered, it is definitely the better option.
Try buying second hand if your options are limited, at least this way you are reusing an existing item rather than being the cause for a new one to be made. Up-cycling can also be a great way to modify furniture into the ideal piece, turn an old clumpy stereo speaker into a bedside table, a leather case into a table, etc. Keep an eye out at junk drop off areas, ask friends and family if they know anyone giving things away, scour the buy and sell pages, try the second hand stores, etc. When purchasing second hand try to seek out items made of wood so when possible try to go for salvaged or reclaimed wood that has not been finished using toxic glues, paints or finishes.
When it comes to cushioned goods opt for natural latex as this is sustainably sourced and natural – made from rubber trees. Be sure to ask if any synthetic chemicals were added in the production process.
Other natural materials found in furniture that are environmentally sound
Always opt for organic and sustainably produced:
- Leather (chromium-free, vegetable tanned)
- Salvaged wood
Do your research before buying new products and ensure that you are getting the healthiest furniture and home furnishings around.
Ethical home furnishings
Follow this short list of recommendations each and every time prior to a new purchase;
- Research your product online
- Select natural, sustainably grown materials
- Steer clear of any finishes and treatments to avoid toxic chemicals being released into your home
- Opt for certified products to ensure you are getting what you are looking for.
- Avoid cheap flatpack furniture; ‘buy cheap, buy twice’.
- Go for smaller companies that use verifiably sustainable materials and production methods rather than mass produced.
Ethical and Sustainable Eating: Online Diploma Course
Here at the School of Natural Health Sciences we offer a distance learning diploma course of 10 lessons in Ethical and Sustainable Eating. Ethical and sustainable eating means eating healthy food as close to its natural state as possible, characterised by unrefined, unprocessed, organic and locally grown whole foods. Introducing sustainable living and its philosophies, this course does not stress an all-or-nothing approach, but rather increases awareness of our choices.