Category Archives: Furniture

The Most Affordable, Sustainable, Non-Toxic Mattresses

Photo credit:  Hitch Exclusives

Photo credit: Hitch Exclusives

Tips For Buying Affordable and Chemical-Free Mattresses

Have you ever thought about the mattress you are sleeping on and how it may effect your health?  Did you ever wonder how the production and disposal of your mattress might effect the Earth and people you don’t even know?

When I first started looking for eco-friendly, healthy mattress options, I winced.  So expensive!  But, I did not give up.  Stay tuned for the unique and wholesome options that I have discovered.  I will be using full-sized mattresses as my examples.

What’s in a typical mattress that we should avoid?

Many conventional mattresses contain polyurethane foam, styrofoam and polyester.  These materials are all made from petroleum.  Drilling for oil and refining it so it can be made into products , such as mattresses,  is very toxic to the environment and the people who live by these refineries. Polyurethane foam, for example, emits volatile organic compounds that can cause respiratory problems and skin irritation.

The next thing to look out for are flame retardants.  Legally,  mattresses are required to have these.   So, while our bed might not burn down in the rare case of a fire, we are instead subjecting ourselves to another risk: toxic chemicals that may lead to health issues over time.   If your mattress is from before 2004, it was likely treated with PentaBDE, a member of the polybrominated diphenyl ether (PBDE) family of flame retardants. PentaBDE is now known to be toxic to the liver, thyroid, and nervous system.

Yikes!

For mattresses from 2004 or later,  Ryan Trainer, executive vice president of the International Sleep Products Association, an industry group, says most companies use “various types of barrier fabrics”.  On the safer end, there is  cotton treated with boric acid or rayon treated with silica.  On the more toxic side of things, bed companies use fire-resistant materials such as modacrylic fiber (which contains antimony oxide, a carcinogen) and melamine resin (which contains formaldehyde).

Also, let’s not forget the bigger picture: as a general rule of thumb, any product that is toxic to our health  is also toxic to manufacture and dispose of.  Just think about the people who live near the factories that make conventional mattresses.  What are they breathing in? We are all interconnected.  We share the same atoms of all the animals, plants, soil and water, so what’s not good for us is also not good for the planet.

What about soy memory foam, you might be asking?  First of all, you will want to make sure it is 100% soy (and not mixed with petroleum-based foam).  While soy memory foam may be safer in your home, it may also be made from GMO soy.  GMO crops are heavily sprayed with the herbicide, Round Up Ready. They are genetically designed to be able to withstand these heavy sprays without dying.  GMO crops are also fed with artificial fertilizers.   Neither of these are good for the environment that sustains us, nor the people who live near or work on these industrial farms.

The Most Affordable Eco-friendly, Natural Mattresses

So, if you want to avoid flame retardants and sleep on truly natural sustainable materials, what can you do?  Organic mattress companies have found a simple way to fireproof; they wrap their bedding in a layer of wool, which is naturally fire-resistant.  However, full-sized organic mattresses encased in wool generally start around $1599, which is still pricey to me.

Allergic to wool or lead a vegan lifestyle?  There are sustainable mattresses made of organic cotton and natural latex. With a doctor’s prescription you can purchase a mattress without fire retardants.

So, here are the exciting affordable options you have been waiting for (drumroll). The first one may be my favorite and is also the most expensive of these affordable options: $1068.  It is a short, easy DIY project of inserting a 6 inch natural latex core inside of an organic cotton cover with wool batting. Vegan options are also available. This particular version has no flame retardants because only whole mattresses are legally required to have flame retardants– not parts that you put together yourself.

Getting an organic futon mattress is another more affordable option.  I found a full-sized on made with wool and organic cotton for $809.37.  I chose this one because I like softer mattresses.

And then, for those of you who are truly crafty and hands on (and also like firmer mattresses), you can make your own mattress with buckwheat hulls for about $400. There is a DIY kit  sold online.   Or you can get them ready-made for about $500.  While this may all sound strange, hulls have been used for hundreds of years to fill pillows, mats and futons in Europe and Asia. You could combine this option with a 3 inch natural latex core for a softer feel.

Also, another DIY homemade option, that is old-fashioned and rustic,  involves making a mattress stuffed with straw.  People have been sleeping comfortably on straw mattresses for ages.

I, personally, am excited to try one or more of these options when I am ready to replace my current mattress. Perhaps, I will start with a buckwheat hull pillow for the fun of it to see how I enjoy that texture for sleeping.   I look forward to the delicious feeling of sleeping on something truly wholesome that nurtures my body and soul.   Ahhhhh, the beauty of living in harmony with the Earth.

 

 

 

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Tips For Buying Sustainable Wood Furniture On A Budget

dresser

Affordable Eco-friendly Wood Furniture Choices 

Are you on a budget?  Well, so am I.  For that reason, I  often find myself contemplating  ways to make living in harmony with the Earth  easy on the wallet. Regardless of your income,  you can live in a way that reflects your deeper values and the kind of world you want to create .

So, let’s get started. . Pretend  we are about to shop for a dresser together (doesn’t that sound like fun?)  Of course, you can apply these tips and insights to any wooden  item you buy, whether it be a table, lumber or wood flooring.   I realize that we all have different budgets we are working with.  The furniture options I am presenting are all under a $1000 pre-taxes, shipping, delivery and any other costs (trust me, there is plenty  $1000+ sustainable furniture that will be none too hard to find.)

What Not To Buy

Before I tell you what  to buy, let’s look at what to not buy. Avoid composite woods like particleboard, plywood and medium-density fiber-board; these can off-gas toxic formaldehyde.  Formaldehyde is a carcinogen and can also cause headaches, insomnia and respiratory problems.

Avoid conventionally grown wood which is devastating the environment. Straight from Gaiam’s blog,  let’s look at what how wood is conventionally grown and harvested:

Most of our wood products come from forests harvested by a method called clearcutting. When a forest is clearcut, it’s essentially leveled- all trees and vegetation are removed by giant machines, some of which literally snip trees like a huge pair of scissors. The result is a barren, muddy landscape of stumps and debris which is often burned and then treated with herbicides to prevent non-tree vegetation from regenerating. To “restore” this land, harvesters commonly replant it with just a single variety of tree. Typically planted in evenly spaced rows to make future harvests easier, these seedlings create a massive tree farm where a biologically diverse living forest once stood.

Yikes!

Also, beware of stained and painted furniture, especially when buying new.  Conventional wood stains and paints emit VOCs (Volatile Organic Compounds).  VOCs can cause headaches, eye, nose and throat irritation and dizziness. Long-term exposure to certain VOCs may lead to chronic diseases or cancer.  Second hand furniture that is stained or  painted conventionally is safer since it did the worst of it’s off-gassing in someone else’s home within the first year of use.

Sustainable Choices

Instead, look for items made with materials such as solid wood and bamboo that are FSC certified .  What does that mean?  Again, straight from Gaiam’s blog:

Such forests are never clearcut. Instead, only carefully selected trees are removed. A healthy mix of different tree species of different ages is left behind, and loggers take care not to damage vegetation or soils as they go. Instead of returning to cut more trees in 7-10 years (as is the case with fast-growing replacement tree farms), loggers typically wait up to 30 years to allow the forest to regenerate. The original forest is thus left largely intact to provide healthy habitat for plants, animals, and people to enjoy, and a steady supply of lumber in perpetuity. With sustainable wood, one thing is clear: Everyone, including the environment, wins. 

West Elm, for example, has a few FSC-certified wood dresser options under $1000.

Another option is to get furniture made from reclaimed wood. I was absolutely delighted when I googled “reclaimed wood dressers” and saw that they can be more affordable than their FSC certified counterparts.  Check out the Etsy shop, Timeless Journey,  that makes rustic furniture from reclaimed barn wood.  Their dressers range from $400 – $600.   Sierra Living Concepts  also sells some reclaimed wood furniture.

As I googled  these options, I wondered what affordable sustainable furniture  exists in my own neck of the “woods”, New York City.  I feel buying local items that don’t have to travel far is more sustainable with the added benefit of investing in your local community.  Plus, you don’t have to deal with shipping charges, which can be very expensive.

The other day, while meandering through Park Slope, Brooklyn, I  caught a store out of the corner of my eye called  Trailer Park.  Something about the furniture outside on display had the vibe of  vintage, reclaimed materials and affordability (am I the new bargain eco-whisperer?)  I looked the store up online and, sure enough, I was right.  Trailer Park sells vintage furniture items along with handmade Amish furniture made from recycled barnwood.

If you’re on a super budget, there is always second-hand. You can peruse Craigslist, Freecycle, thrift stores and/or yard sales.  I love second-hand furniture because it is the ultimate recycling and also an adventure of sorts, where truly unique items can be found that add a creative flair to your home.  This method of shopping may take a little extra time  and patience, so be sure to not wait until the last minute.

Last,  but not least, imagine you’re about to buy an awesome reclaimed or FSC certified dresser.  Don’t forget to ask your retailer if the stain/paint  is low or no-VOC? If not, perhaps, they have have an unfinished version that you can stain yourself.  Green Depot has some awesome stain and paint options.  I also found homemade  stain option using beeswax and olive oil that I am going to try soon.

Because I like to keep the bigger picture in mind of how all of our actions effect the greater whole,  I would like to leave you with two more inspiring thoughts .  Sustainable forestry, as practiced by the FSC, ensures that human rights for communities and forest workers are respected.  The local people who  traditionally use forests to gather food, firewood, building, materials and/or medicinal plants must still have access to these forest resources.  The FSC must also get permission from indigenous people before using their land.

The other inspiring thought is that by preserving forests, like the Amazon, we also preserve biological diversity, including plants that may have medicinal value for humans. I recently read about the derivative of a plant that could cure AIDS.  Plus, don’t forget the all the air-purifying and oxygen- producing benefits that habitat preservation brings for all us.  All in all, there is so much beauty in sustainably choosing where your wood comes from.

 

 

No Synthetic, Please

I read the book, Your Brain On Nature, which totally rocked my world.  In this book, the authors mention numerous studies on the effects of nature on the brain and also the effects of urban scenes  on the brain.  This was both tested with photographic representations of both scenarios and actual immersion in a natural or uber urban setting devoid of plant life. Clearly, nature is better for the brain by:

  • decreasing stress
  • elevating mood and positive outlook
  • increasing empathy
  • boosting the immune system
  • sharpening cognitive function

Urban scenes, on the other hand, increase stress, anxiety, aggression and decrease cognitive capabilities and immune response– yikes!

That said, I made a *unique* connection in light of this scientific research.  It’s purely anecdotal, so humor me.  In the past decade or so, I have shunned synthetic furniture (plastic, pressed particle board, etc.)  in favor of  solid wood and other natural materials that look and feel earthy.  I know it’s personal taste, but I think I am onto something.  Not only is my favoritism for natural products probably better for the planet in some ways (less petroleum used, less synthetic chemicals released into the environment and less toxic crap for us to breath in), but heck, it may be better for my brain!

Perhaps, my brain doesn’t like looking at plastic and other fake stuff.  To be honest, it may not even be in it’s evolutionary biology.  As “Your Brain On Nature” expounds, we are hard-wired to notice, more quickly, the threat of a tiger than the threat of a machine gun.  This difference may only be a few milliseconds, but it says a lot:  all this synthetic stuff is very new to our brain’s evolution, while awareness of large, predatory animals has been embedded into our brains since the beginning of our hominid existence.

From my perspective, clay pots, baskets,  wooden furniture and other simple, timeless home and hearth items have been with us for much longer and much more resemble the raw materials from which they were made.  This may also make them more recognizable to our brains.  Not to mention, they probably still emit aromatherapeutic chemicals and other beneficial properties.  Have you ever smelled a cedar chest or enjoyed  the sweet smell of a straw basket? If you have ever sculpted clay, perhaps, some of the mineral-rich content of the clay seeps into your skin, nourishing you (they do say what you put on your skin goes into your bloodstream.)

Taking it further, I wonder if synthetic items create a stress response, decrease the immune system and all those other things that urban scenes did in the previously mentioned scientific study.  Not to get OCD (that is probably even worse for your immune system than having synthetic items in your house), but let’s consider that surrounding ourselves with beautiful, natural household items (when possible),  like an unfinished solid wood shelf, may at least be neutral on your brain.  Add plants and  some sort of nature view out your window, whether it be a single tree or a lush garden or a lake, and, voila!  Your brain is going to feeling pretty good.   Plus, you will not  have purchased something that toxically off-gasses in your home.

For more information on non-toxic, brain-loving and sustainable furniture choices, please see by two blog posts here and here.