“You cannot get through a single day without having an impact on the world around you. What you do makes a difference, and you have to decide what kind of difference you want to make.” — Jane Goodall, primatologist, ethologist, anthropologist, and UN Messenger of Peace
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 what we value in our lives.
Due to COVID-19, many of us are spending more and more 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 friends? 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 for others to be 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 the colors can say a lot about your personality, preferences and stage of life. Consider furnishings, bedding, decor, 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, including 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.
Your furnishings: Furniture may be functional and decorative, but coverings, paint and even air fresheners contain VOCs, while foam and carpet padding can also contain toxic flame retardants. Exposure to these harmful chemicals is linked to cancer, thyroid problems, 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 a landfill too soon. In 2009, the EPA found that the US alone sends 9.8 million tons of furniture to landfills each year, a number which reached 12 million tons in 2017 and continues to rise. 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 costing you more for replacements or repairs, while contributing to continued, wasteful, unsustainable overproduction. Think about ways to furnish or mix up your space, including repurposing items you already have, adding foraged natural elements, finding something at a local thrift store, or renting through a service like Oliver Space. The Buyerarchy of Needs concept, developed by illustrator Sarah Lazerovic, explains options we have: 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 buying new.
Your cleaning products: Cleaning is not always fun, but it’s even worse when ingredients in the products you think you are 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 been linked to hormone and fertility problems, as well as an increased risk of cancer and respiratory disorders.
How can companies get away with this, you ask? Unfortunately, chemicals are barely regulated at all in the US. Since 1976, over 22,000 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. Both wildlife and humans may unknowingly drink this 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 your 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.
Post this on Instagram, tagging @TurningGreenOrg and the healthy company, in both the caption and image! If you got it from the Made Safe report, tag @MadeSafeHQ as well. And use #PGC2020, as always!
Upload a PDF Document with your responses and screenshot of your social media post. Please include your name (or team name), username, email address, and school.
When you are seeking new furniture or decorations, where do you look? Big stores might have the most options, but if everyone buys a newly produced item every time they need something, far too much ends up wasted in landfills. Let’s explore some alternatives to buying new, helping 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 in your bedroom, a rug for the hallway, a sofa in the living room and such. Or think about decor you’d like to add: paintings, prints, planters, pillows?
Next, check out resources in your community to find used items, or think about a DIY 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 on the phone to see if they have what you’re looking for. 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. All allow you to search by location, so you can find people in your area selling used items. You never know what kind of treasures you can 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, allowing you to pay monthly for items on a short or long-term basis. The company takes care of cleaning and refurbishing items before they are placed in another household, reducing resource consumption, production needs, transportation expenditures and overall waste. This circular business model is especially useful for students or anyone in temporary housing, also lessening the hassle of moving and storing items repeatedly, which gets costly.
Once you find or make five objects that fit your list, take a picture or screenshot of each and share with us. Be sure to note where you found each item, why it’s sustainable and/or what materials you used to make it.
Upload a PDF Document with your photos. Please include your name (or team name), username, email address and school.
You may not be aware of the daily dose of toxic chemicals around you, but they are everywhere and unfortunately, all too often in cleaning products. This challenge will help you 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 (check out EWG’s top product list or another trusted company or database) and tell us what it is. Write why it might be a better pick.
What about using what you have at home to make a DIY cleaning product? Just like 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 good, if not better than what you currently use — without the risk of undisclosed toxins that are harmful to people and planet. Time to roll up your sleeves, make a simple cleaning product, and find out just how fun and easy green cleaning can be!
Find a recipe for a DIY eco-friendly cleaning product. Check out Lisa Bronner’s Green Cleaning Starter Kit to get started, as well as ideas from Women’s Voices for the Earth. Use what you have and try to borrow other ingredients you need, so you don’t have to purchase. Consider reusing a spray bottle or recycling another container for a receptacle.
Then test it out! How does it compare to products you have used in the past?
Make a drawing or illustration or take a photo of your product with the recipe. (Here’s a fun example). Post it on Instagram with a caption of one reason why cleaning green is important to human and environmental health. Tag @TurningGreenOrg and use #PGC2020, as well as where you found your recipe (if via Lisa Bronner, be sure to tag @DrBronner!).
Upload a PDF Document with your responses and a screenshot of and link to your social media post. Please include your name (or team name), username, email address and school.
Up to 10 Greener and 10 Greenest outstanding submissions will be selected as winners.