Category Archives: Sustainable Home

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.

 

 

 

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.

 

 

The Beauty of Less Stuff

home

As I look around at my humble abode that I share with my boyfriend in Brooklyn, I feel proud.  I feel like I have accomplished a mission.  My home is simple, low-clutter and artful with a beautiful clear energy.  I’m not a neat-freak, but because I have a lower amount stuff in a spacious apartment, I don’t have to be.

Severals years ago,  I read “Clear Your Clutter with Feng Shui” by Karen Kingston and started getting rid of things, even old diaries that I felt held painful memories and old stagnant ways of being.   If an object inspired negativity or ambivalence, I often let it go.  Luckily, I am not very nostalgic, so this is was easy for me in certain ways. I peeled away layers and layers, disliking holding onto things that were not useful or beautiful to me.  My only stuck spot in this was if I couldn’t find a sustainable way to get rid of something like, for example,  used lipstick,  burnt-out incandescent light bulbs, broken candle votives,  etc. Did I ever regret getting rid of something?  Yes.  Admittedly, I can be a little get-rid-of happy. Three items comes to mind that I could totally use now.  Ugh.

Not only was I letting go of things, but many items in my home are sustainable (i.e second hand).  Admittedly, my initial motivation was the cost-effectiveness.  But later on, I also realized it was much greener and also began to purchase some new things, when in my price range, made of sustainable materials, like my bamboo drying rack for hanging my laundry.

Anyway, I think there is a beauty to having less that is both sustainable and liberating.  Here are some benefits of letting go of stuff and accumulating less:

  1. The energy and look of your home will be more open, spacious, airy and clear.
  2. It feels therapeutic and cleansing to let go of objects that carry ambivalent or negative associations for you.
  3. As your home becomes less cluttered and bogged down by stuff, you feel clearer and lighter inside.
  4. You’ll have less stuff to organize and clean, which means more free time and simplicity.
  5. A chance to look within and heal:  do you compulsively collect, hoard or emotionally shop rather than face some difficult feelings inside?  Perhaps, this is a time to nurture yourself in more healthy ways, like a yoga class or a nature walk, or find a therapist or insightful, caring friend to talk to.  There are also professional organizers  and declutterers that could be just what the doctor ordered.
  6. Freedom of movement: it’s easier to change residences with less stuff to pack and move.
  7. Sustainability: consuming less of the Earth’s precious resources means less deforestation, less habitat destruction, less mountain-top removal and strip mining for minerals, less pollution, less toxins, less endangered and going extinct species and the health and well-being of the human race for generations to come.  See if you can buy second hand or find a a more sustainable version of your desired or needed item.
  8. Less expensive: use that money for things that truly nurture you like buying  organic food, getting a massage,  an eco-travel adventure, taking an art class  or whatever makes your heart sing.
  9. Less stuff, less gadgets, less television and video games, means less distraction and more quality time to connect with the world around you, to connect more with friends and family, to engage positively with your community,  to follow your passions,  and to also cultivate a deeper relationship with nature.
  10. Getting rid of stuff is also an opportunity to  be generous.  Perhaps, your friends and family could use what you no longer need.  Doesn’t it feel good to give?  Perhaps, you could donate to your local charity.  Heck, you could be generous to yourself and make some money selling  your castaways on craigslist or have a yard sale.

Thank you for reading and happy spring cleaning!  Feel free to share your own inspirations on this topic in the comment section.

Love, the Earth and the greenest candle options (Part 2)

RESIZE2012 326 Thank you all for waiting patiently for Part 2 of this article to be written.    If you haven’t read Part 1, please do.  So, let’s continue the love post-Valentine’s Day and explore more important sustainable candle choices:

Choose Rainforest Alliance Certified Palm Wax candles. Palm oil and palm wax have gotten a very bad environmental rap due to the  deforestation and the destruction of orangutan habitats that most palm tree farming cause.  Fortunately, more sustainable ways of cultivating palm oil exist. Aloha Bay candles are made with Rainforest Alliance Certified Palm Wax.

Choose candles made from beeswax. Beeswax candles are another excellent Earth-friendly choice, especially from a local source and/or  sustainable beekeepers.

Stop purchasing candles made from paraffin. The majority of candles sold in the United States, unless purchased from a holistic market place and specifically labeled as made from beeswax, soy and/or palm wax,  are made from paraffin.  What is paraffin?  It’s a petroleum byproduct.  Burning it releases neurotoxins and carcinogens into the air such as toluene, benzene and hydrocarbons.  Yikes!  Burning paraffin candles also releases a superfine soot into the air which can cause irritation and damage in the lungs.  Beeswax, soy wax and palm wax candles, on the other hand, burn much more cleanly. Another downside to paraffin candles is that they are a byproduct of the very  polluting industry of fossil fuels.  Not only is serious damage done to air and waterways by oil refineries, but they also pose health risks, such as respiratory issues and cancer, to the people who live near them.

Choose eco-friendly packaging and other candle materials. Is the wick lead-free (it should be since lead wicks were outlawed in the U.S. in 2003) and made of cotton or hemp?  Is the candle naturally dyed or dye-free (you may have to contact the candle  company to find out)?  How is the candle packaged?  Does it come in a box made of post-consumer recycled content?  Does the candle sit in glass or is it a pillar candle? I like the idea of candles that come in jars (where the neck is narrower than the base) so they can be recycled or reused like you would a mason jar.  NYC Sanitation does not accept non-jar shaped glass for recycling.   I also love pillar candles and minimally packaged candles that use less resources.  I like to put my pillar candles in old candle votive containers. I’ve also seen candles nestled sweetly in glass that used to be a wine bottle.  I love creative repurposing! There are so many fun, creative green options out there to play with.  Enjoy the exploration!

Some eco-friendly, clean burning candles:

There are so many other sustainable candle makers.  I trust you will poke around on the following websites and do you own fun research:

Also, if you want to know more info about the risks of using fragrance in candles and cosmetics, read these articles:

 

Love, the Earth and the greenest candle options (Part 1)

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Today, on Valentine’s Day, I cannot help but reflect on love– the love of our planet and we the people that inhabit it. What a perfect time to resume this candle blog post that I started weeks ago.

When you light a candle, you ignite an intention: I want to create  a romantic ambiance, I want to create a peaceful atmosphere, I want to meditate, etc.   Digging more deeply, I cannot think of a better way to express intention and love than choosing products that are good for people and the Earth.  Products, such as candles, can effect us personally (self love).  They can effect our loved ones (friends and family love).  They can effect the people involved directly in their production  or  the people living near the site of where the raw materials are created or extracted (humanity love).  They can also effect the surrounding eco-systems and beyond (planet love).

So, in what ways can you create some interconnected love with your green, eco-friendly candle choices?

Choose candles scented with essential oils

When you smell a scented candle, its scent can effect you in many ways.  On one level, there is the pleasure of scent preferences enjoyed.  And then, there is the aromatherapy– this is the magic of pure plant essential oils.  What a gift mother nature has given us.  Just by smelling the bounty of her plants, your brain and nervous system are positively benefited through  feelings of  relaxation and upliftment.  What a great way to give yourself some love or share the with others!

But what happens when you have a candle scented with “fragrance” or “fragrance oils”.  The word fragrance includes a includes a whole host of chemicals you, your loved ones and the people involved in the production of these candles should not be breathing in, such as phthalates.  Phthalates are endocrine system disruptors, among other unsavory ill effects.

Even if you get a candle from the healthfood store, I would still check to see if they are made with essential oils or fragrances.  I have seen the term, “natural fragrance oil”.   Is there such thing as  natural, non-toxic fragrance that is not an essential oil?  Maybe. I have yet to do more research on this, but here is a preliminary teaser:    http://www.bathbodysupply.com/category-s/34.htm .

If you find a company that you feel may be wholesome and has the words “natural fragrance” listed as an ingredient,  ask them for the complete list of ingredients that make up their “fragrance” .  You can research those ingredients online to see if they are safe to use.

Choose organic and/or non-GMO soy candle wax and essential oils

I am holding a soy candle made by Sunbeam Candles.  It is a tall, white, unscented pillar candle with an 80 hour burn time.  Having purchased it a few weeks ago, my boyfriend and I have enjoyed its  glowing warm light many times as we meditate, share intimacy or wind down for bed.  The truly nifty thing about this lovely candle is that the soy it contains is non-GMO.

Why buy non-GMO and/or organic?  My heart tells me for the love of all life, to support agricultural practices in harmony with the intelligent, life-sustaining system of nature.  In nature there is biodiversity; each organism supports the whole of the ecosystem.  One organism’s waste is another’s food .  This flow and order that has evolved over millions of years to perpetuate the thriving of life.  Let’s be part of it.

To get, briefly, more technical (I will be writing more on this later), over 80% of GMO crops are modified to help them withstand heavy-duty sprayings of herbicides.  This creates herbicide-resistant “super weeds” and  “super bugs” that are very hard to kill.  These type of farming practices are not in harmony with nature.  These chemicals that kill weeds and pests are also harmful to humans and the eco system.  Not to mention, this type of farming also includes the use of  of artificial fertilizers.  Artificial fertilizers, create nitrogen run-off that flows into streams, rivers and ultimately coastal waters, causing excessive algae bloom and decomposition which depletes oxygen from the oceans and ends up killing the marine life.

Stayed tuned for Part Two of this article, arriving in the next day or so!  More valuable, important information regarding  people and earth- loving candle choices will be explored.   Happy Valentine’s day from my heart to yours!