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Common Sense Eco-Furniture

Common Sense Eco-Furniture

October 3, 2007 —

Building green has become all the rage.  But choosing the furniture that goes in your dwelling may be the more critical environmental challenge.

Furniture and bedding is a $66 billion industry in the U.S., and the vast majority of those products are still constructed in the conventional way--from declining natural resources.  While wood remains the main component of most furniture, alternative sources of lumber have caused some businesses to collect wood from old buildings, salvage wood from old mills, or even collect fallen trees from lakes and streams.

The EPA is requiring that work-surface substrate (the base material beneath the laminated finish on desks and tables) be made from non-wood agricultural fiber, that wood used elsewhere be FSC-certified (see below for more information), and that laminated surfaces be adhered using water-based or bio-based glues.

Finishes are also important. Greener solutions include powder-based finishing coats, which not only are free from volatile organic compounds (VOC), but require less energy and create less waste. About 95 percent of powder ends up on the product, compared to only about 60 percent of paint in traditional wet-spray processes.

The emission of gases from glues, stains, finishes and other elements considered VOCs by the EPA are major contributors to indoor air pollution and outdoor smog. One of the most common VOCs is formaldehyde, which is used in glues for particleboard. It is also added to paints as a preservative and to upholstery to give it a permanent-press quality. Formaldehyde emissions can cause eye and throat irritation, allergic reactions, and possibly cancer, according to the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission.

Okay, So What Can I Do?

Here are a few tips to get you started:

  • Choose carpeting, rugs, window treatments and other textiles made from natural fibers, such as cotton or wool, which are untreated and free of toxins, such as pesticides or chemical cleaners.
  • Select solid woods harvested from sustainably-managed forests, when possible, for furniture or cabinetry, rather than pressed woods or composites that may contain formaldehyde or other chemicals that may be toxic and hazardous to your health.
  • Consider the “lifecycle” of furnishings and accessories before purchasing: Are they made of materials that can be reused or recycled when the item eventually wears out or is no longer needed?
  • Finally, why not hold on to your current furniture for a little longer? If that’s not possible, seek out a recycling center in order to avoid having harmful materials exposed to the environment.


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