“Love begins at home.” — Mother Teresa
We shape where we live just as much as it shapes us. Our home is a reflection of who we are, what we aspire to be, and where we allot value in our lives.
Due to the pandemic, many of us have been spending a great deal of time in our homes. So let’s think about every aspect of our space. How can we make our homes the best, healthiest place to work, play and live together with families and housemates? It is also critically important to acknowledge the privilege of having a safe place to call home and reliable shelter over your head, working always to expand equity and opportunity such that all are able to benefit from the stability too often taken for granted.
Think about your living space. Maybe you have photos strung on the wall capturing precious moments, a window from which you can take in a bit of nature, or shelves full of objects that represent hobbies and passions. Even colors can say a lot about your personality, preferences, and stage of life. Consider furnishings, bedding, decor, and even cleaning products. What story are you telling? And how does your personal space impact your wellbeing and that of the planet?
Here are a few things to think about:
Your bed: We spend a lot of time sleeping (though seemingly never enough!), almost one-third of our lives! Sleep is essential to a happy, healthy existence. But have you ever thought about what you sleep on? Many mattresses, pillows and bedding contain toxic chemicals that can negatively impact your health, including flame retardants, Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs) and isocyanates. According to a study from our partners at MADE SAFE, these chemicals are linked to chronic illness, respiratory disease, and cancer. That’s why companies like our partner Naturepedic are so important, committed to eliminating all toxic chemicals from products and creating only certified organic mattresses and bedding, so we can all have a safe, healthy sleeping environment, as well as more organic agricultural lands.
Your furnishings: Furniture may be functional and/or decorative, but coverings, paint and even air fresheners contain VOCs, while foam and carpet padding can also contain toxic flame retardants. Exposure to these chemicals is linked to cancer, thyroid disorders, and reproductive and nervous system diseases. VOCs also contribute to ozone production, which can harm sensitive vegetation and destroy ecosystems. As is the case with furniture made from particle board, the mix of materials and chemicals in manufactured goods makes them impossible to recycle.
Similar to fast fashion, fast furniture or decor offer a “cheap” and “easy” solution to fill spaces, but one that comes with a steep cost of environmental destruction. Whether a sofa or dining chair, every new item requires significant resources to produce and often ends up in landfill far too soon. Each year, 12 million tons of furniture were sent to landfill, according to the Environmental Protection Agency. Furniture is now one of the fastest growing landfill categories and makes up the second largest portion of urban waste. Not built to last, cheap furniture often ends up actually costing you more for replacements or repairs, while contributing to continued, wasteful, unsustainable overproduction. Think about ways to furnish your space by repurposing items you already have, adding foraged natural elements, or finding treasures at local thrift shops.
The Buyerarchy of Needs, developed by illustrator Sarah Lazerovic, explains options we have that don’t include buying new: use what you have, borrow from a friend, swap items with someone else, thrift, or make something yourself. In addition to many environmental and social benefits, all are also more affordable than purchasing new items.
Your cleaning products: Cleaning is not always fun, but it’s even worse when ingredients in the products you think you’re using to “clean” end up leaving harmful residue in place of dirt and grime. According to our partners at Women’s Voices for the Earth, chemicals in cleaning products have links to hormone and fertility problems, as well as increased risk of cancer and respiratory disorders.
How can companies get away with this? Unfortunately, chemicals are barely regulated in the U.S. Over 85,000 chemicals have been introduced without any testing for public or environmental safety. Only 11 toxic chemicals are currently banned in the US. There is no federal law requiring companies to list all ingredients on products, so you may purchase products that contain dangerous chemicals without even having access to that information. Toxins in products also have large environmental costs when washed down the drain into waterways, as both wildlife and humans may unknowingly drink contaminated water.
But as always, there is good news. You can begin to make your home a more enjoyable, sustainable, non-toxic place for both you and the planet starting today! Be a conscious, savvy consumer who considers eco-friendly ways to furnish, decorate and clean.
Whether sleeping, studying, reading or hanging out, we spend about 25 years of our lives in bed. Yet, harmful toxins hide in conventional mattresses and bedding that emit gases over time, releasing dangerous chemicals into your body and the air. Sleeping on bedding made with conventionally grown cotton or synthetics like polyester also further increases chemical exposure. Though conventional cotton only accounts for 2.4% of the world’s cropland, it is responsible for 24% of global pesticide use. Conversely, organic cotton is grown without pesticides or herbicides.
- Select one item from your bed and research:
- What it is made of and where it was made
- Two important facts or concerns associated with the materials
- Any surprises about your findings
- Find a sustainable alternative and share two health and environmental benefits. What website did you find it on and what is the best price available? For ideas, check out great companies in the above-mentioned report.
- Make a creative, simple presentation comparing your conventional and sustainable sleep items with a caption about your learnings and discoveries.
When you are seeking new furniture or decorations, where do you look? Big stores might have tons of options, but if everyone buys new every time they need something, far too much ends up wasted in landfills. Let’s explore some alternatives that help you save money and the planet at the same time. A win-win!
Make a list of five furniture or decor items you may need. Perhaps a dresser, a rug, a sofa, or decor such as paintings, prints, planters, and pillows.
Next, check out resources in your community to find used items, or think about a project with materials and items you already have. Check out this list for DIY inspiration! Are there thrift stores in your town? If it’s safe to do so, consider visiting one in person (with masks and social distancing, of course!) or call them to see if they have what you’re seeking. Used bookstores are often a great resource for prints and wall decorations, while consignment shops can be ideal for larger furniture items.
Facebook Marketplace, Craigslist, eBay and OfferUp are great online resources for used furniture and decorations. You can easily search by location to find what you need in your area — and never know what treasures you will discover at low prices, or even free!
For specific pieces that a second-hand source can’t provide, another sustainable alternative to the take-make-waste economy is renting. Companies allow you to pay monthly for items on a short or long-term basis and take care of cleaning, sanitizing and refurbishing before any item is placed in another household. Such circular systems reduce resource consumption, production needs, transportation expenditures, and overall waste. This can be especially useful for students or anyone in temporary housing, also lessening the hassle (and cost!) of repeatedly moving and storing items.
Once you find or make five objects that meet the needs on your list, take a picture or screenshot of each to share with us. Be sure to note where you found each, why it’s sustainable and/or what materials you used to make it.
You may not be aware of the daily dose of toxic chemicals around you, but they are unfortunately everywhere and too often in cleaning products. You can choose safer products that keep your home truly clean without health risks!
Take a closer look at one of your most-used cleaning products. Pick an ingredient and find it in the MADE SAFE Chemical Profile list or EWG’s Guide to Cleaning Supplies and Your Health. Share the chemical and what you learned about that ingredient.
Now, find a safer alternative for your product and tell us what it is. Check out EWG’s top product list or another trusted company or database. Write why it seems to be a better option.
What about using what you have at home to make a DIY cleaning product? Just like what you learned in the PGC Body Challenge, with DIY cleaning products, you avoid toxic ingredients and know exactly what you’re using! Common household items like baking soda, vinegar, lemon juice, and essential oils can yield very simple, inexpensive products that are as effective, if not better than what you currently use — without the risk of undisclosed toxins that harm people and the planet. It’s time to roll up your sleeves, make a simple cleaning product, and discover just how fun and easy green cleaning can be!
Then test it out! How does it compare to products you have used in the past?
Make a drawing, illustration of your DIY cleaning product with the recipe. Here’s a fun example for inspiration.