Everything from toilet paper to green energy
Let's start in one of my favourite rooms ...
In the kitchen
In my household we are very passionate about food and we basically cook everything from scratch that's why we need a lot of utensils, which should of course be neither toxic to our health, nor have an detrimental effect on the environment. So here is what to look out for:
*Pots and pans: avoid non-stick (Teflon) frying pans. The debate is still out there and apparently you can use it safely if you don't scratch it and don't overheat it - but incorrect use will make the coating to break down and release toxic particles, some of them carcinogenic or causing liver disease, so no thanks. Instead, opt for stainless steal or cast-iron pans and cookware made out of glass or ceramic. There is a also a great non-stick alternative to Teflon, called Greenpan.
I recently invested in a cast-iron frying pan, which cost me quite a chunk of money but was definitely worth it. Not only does it add a bit of iron to the food when I cook, which is important for me as a vegetarian, it will get better with age and I can use as many metal utensils in it as I want, as the scratches will close again with time. It also retains the heat much better, and is therefore much more energy efficient.
*Cooking utensils: Whenever you use anything made from plastic, tiny particles might end up in your food or in our water ways or both - so avoid them at all cost. I know, they often look nice and colourful in the shop but in the end of the day, they never really age nicely and they are toxic so avoid them. Luckily, the old rustic country house style is back in fashion, so it is easy to find a stainless steel colander in any shop or have a look at a flee market, there are some amazing finds to be discovered. Beautiful bamboo utensils can be found at Greentulip.
*Wrapping and storage: My mum is still of the generation that is hooked on her plasticky Tupperware. I often have to tell her that I don't want any of the containers where she looks at me in disbelief and asks me how I store any leftovers. Easy, in jars (I just keep any large jars from e.g. gherkins or olives etc) or bowls and then cover them up with a plate. A half-used onion is placed face-down (to avoid the onion smell) on a saucer and stored in the fridge. The same goes for any recipe advising us to cover things in cling film, e.g. roasted peppers - we just cover them with a plate. My lunch for work is either carried there in another jar or in a stainless steel container. You can find great lunch boxes, steel bottles, snack boxes and leakfree canisters at Elephant Box, Onegreenbottle and eqoliving. At the later you can also find Food Wraps made from beeswax and organic cotton or get them directly at beeswrap.com.
*White goods: Make sure that if you need a replace any of your white goods like your fridge, to check for the most environmental friendly option. Have a look at Energystar.com or the Ethicalconsumer.org.
Defrost your freezer on a regular basis to keep it running efficiently, reduce energy consumption and keeps your food from spoiling. Here is how to defrost a freezer.
Make sure that when bringing water to the boil, that you cook with the lid on, which speeds up the process and thus preserves energy. Recycle any organic matter like peel etc.
In the living room
Ever thought about where the wood for your dining table came from? Maybe you have, but it is more likely you haven't. To be honest, until a few years ago, I even bought my sofa at IKEA.
*Wooden furniture: Make sure your purchase doesn't support the (illegal) logging and destruction of some virgin and/or tropical forest or old-growth forests. The Independent ran a great article on "Eco-friendly options for furnishing your home", outlining all the woods to avoid and their alternatives, which you can find here. Do your research before you your furniture and ask the retailer for more information if it is unclear - or just don't buy from them.
*Consider buying recycled furniture:
I bought my dining table from the charity The British Heart Foundation. It was dirt cheap, really large and is absolutely beautiful. And it will return there, if I ever want to get rid of it, because the BHF also does pick-ups so next time donate any large furniture or electrical items before you bin them (which you shouldn't do, in case of the electricals but you know what I mean or see below).
There are many other charities that sell, deliver and pick-up second-hand furniture. Just have a look at the internet if there are any in your area. Another great charity well worth a try is The Furniture Re-use Network (FRN).
- There are various things to look out for when choosing your furniture as the material used can be highly toxic to us and very damaging to the environment, avoid especially furniture made with formaldehyde and treated with brominated flame retardants. You can find more information in a blog here on custommade.com.
*Ensure your rug or carpet is not a health hazard (by outgassing toxic fumes from e.g. volatile organic compounds like formaldehyde, or mold (mildew) infestation). Get information here, on what to look out for when shopping for carpets and rugs.
A good altenative are wool rugs and carpets (wool is naturally flame resistant, it is durable, it acts as an insulator, it is hygienic and non allergenic, deters the growth of bacteria & dust mites and it is environmentally friendly). Look for a stockist on Alternativeflooring.com. Check out some companies like Naked Flooring or Urbane Living who offer carpets and rugs made from natural fibres like Coir, Jute, Paper, Seagrass, Sisal and wool but make sure to check anyone's environmentla credentilas before bying as even "natural products" can be treated with potentially toxic materials.
There are many useful but also some unwanted chemicals in your house. Here is a list by the EU on some chemicals and their health hazards and another one by Chemsec. Just avoid unnecessary man-made chemicals whenever possible, as some are linked to many health risks (note that some are important and only toxic in great quantity so don't fret - but as we can control exposure to them only in our own home, I think it's important to keep that exposure to a minimum).
*NEVER throw any electrical devices or batteries into your normal rubbish bin because they contain toxic metals and chemicals that can leach into the environment and contanimate water and soil. Usually larger supermarkets have battery recycling facilities and small electrical recycling containers. Have a look on the website Recyclenow.com for more information on what to recycle and where recycle facilities are in your vicinity.
*Green electricity and gas: Choose an energy supplier that doesn't generate energy by burning coal and gas (polluter & contributor to climate change) but instead harness uses renewable energy like solar and wind farms. Find out more about the different of green energy generation here. Also, make sure that your gas supplier is fracking-free. Ecotricity promises a frack-free gas supply. Not sure what fracking is and what the health and environmental implications are? Check out an article in the Independent or on Friends of the Earth website. At Electricityinfo you can see excactly which company uses what kind of fuel to supply your energy.
A few of the good guys to switch to are:
Green Energy UK (100% green gas, 100% renewable electricity)
Robin Hood Energy (Not-for-profit, owned by Nottingham City Council, fighting against fuel poverty)
Ebico (Fighting against fuel poverty and giving excellent advice on how to save energy and money)
Ebico also have some great Energy Saving advice, including heating, which you can find here.
In the bathroom:
1) First of all, buy ONLY recycled toilet paper or any other paper towels (can be found in any big supermarket like Sainsbury's or health food shops) and avoid contributing to the destruction of (virgin) forests. Aso, the whiter the paper, the more likely it is made from virgin fibres and that it has been bleached, and bleach isn't something you want on your skin or in the environment.
2) Never use wipes, not on your face and definitely not on your baby's delicate skin or bottom. Wipes are full chemicals for an easier cleanse but can remain on your skin or penetrate it. They are also an environmental disaster as you throw them out after each use and if worse, you are in the habit to chuck them down the toilet, you are clogging up our water system. So, get a face flannel instead, and enjoy a gentler, healthier, cheaper and more sustainable cleanse. Great buys are organic cotton flannels from Neals Yard, at Greenshop, Saaf, or others.
3) Reduce your water use. I am sure, the following is obvious to most, but still:
* Turn off the tap while you brush your teeth, shave or wash your hands
* Have (shorter) showers instead of baths
* Don't flush it down the toilet (NOTHING but toilet paper and your refuse should go down the toilet - so this excludes everything else, e.g. tampons, condoms, wipes, oil, paint, etc)
* Use less water per flush. If you have an old toilet, put a full bottle into your tank, this will
reduce the amount of water for each flush.
* Fix any leaks immediately
* Wait until you have a full load before you put on a clothes wash
4) More information all around the bathroom can be found in the section "Cleaning" and "Personal hygiene"
And finally into the bedroom:
This is the area you want to feel most comfy and secure in, so make sure it really is. We spend a considerable amount of our lives in bed, so make sure you give yourself the best there is:
1) The mattress: Buy a mattress with an organic filling. As with your carpet, conventional mattresses might emit toxic gases that you inhale in your sleep and that can have serious negative health effects. I don't know why we need flame retardents in mattresses - I don't know how many people really need to smoke in bed and it's not that we all have open fires in our bedrooms nowadays so there shouldn't really be any need for this toxic component as this study shows as well. So do yourself a favour and opt for the healthy option of natural filling, especially for your kids' bedroom. Some companies offering organic fillings are Naturalmat, Abaca, Lovesleep and Cottonsafe. But make sure that you don't fall victim to greenwashing (a company pretends to be more environmentally friendly than they really are). So take Cottonsafe's advice and "make sure chemical adhesives are not used. Also, despite the term organic you may also want to ask if the organic cotton is chemically back coated to make it fire retardant." For some further advice, check out their website.
2) Duvet and pillows: If you opt for a cotton filling make sure it is made from organic cotton as conventional farmed cotton relies heavily on pesticides and has negative effects on the environment and cotton farmers. Or opt for wool, there are loads of companies out there offereing organic cotton and wool duvets and pillows, e.g. Greenfibres, Devonduvets, Urbanwool, etc. There is no point in ensuring that your mattress is chemical free if your pillow is not.
3) Bed linen: You guessed it - buy only bedlinen made from organic cotton. Or buy them from a second-hand shop. There is a reason why bed linen used to be a large part of an inheritance because they get softer and therefore better with time. If you now think "Yuck - second-hand bed linen" then remember that you (probably) have no problem with sleeping in hotel rooms and where exactly is the difference? Some companies offering them include the Naturalbedcompany, Greenfibres or Westelm.
** But sometimes it can be hard to know for consumers that they are supporting illegal logging. For example, the old-growth forest in Romania is being cleared, despite being one of the last remaining ancient forests in Europe, just to turn its trees into furniture & wood chips. The Austrian-owned company "Schweighofer" operating there is certified and even supplies Bricostore (owned by UK-based Kingfisher, who also own B&Q). So the best thing to do might be to check out the company you want to buy from on the internet and look for any controversial information about it.