Most of us are still learning about the significance of green upholstery and how it fits into our daily lives. We’re familiar with organic foods and why recycling is important, and can easily quantify by our wallets or belief systems, if either is a worthwhile choice. Similarly, furniture is a part of everyday life but we rarely question whether the materials used are safe for us and the planet.
Not to freak you out, but the very couch you sit on everyday likely embodies toxic flame retardants and/or non-biodegradable materials that also cannot be recycled. If you knew this surprising information while purchasing this couch, would you have second thoughts about it in your home? Would the cost of the couch justify the value of your family’s health?
Affordability is clearly cut when using the parameters of a budget. However, the function and purpose of a good couch becomes skewed once we realize the materials used are harmful to our health and the environment. The following are three perspectives in determining the true worth of green upholstery in your everyday life.
It seems that truly green upholstery is accessed mostly by interior designers making custom furniture for their clients who request it. That luxery route is the unlikely route for most people. There are glimpses of greener options in the mainstream market but ‘environmentally safe’ is not yet the total norm. In our little niche business, A Circle Home is here to spread the word about non-toxic upholstery and hopefully inspire mass manufacturers to prioritize the greenest options.
As a home based business I avoid the added expense of a brick and mortar shop, and my maker hands also means cutting out the middle man. Based on my previous garment manufacturing career and upholsterer’s word on the street, a retail storefront’s mark-up averages 40-60%. That’s also how most retailers can afford to offer sales so that you’re enticed to buy. Sorry folks, I don’t believe in coupons or discounts when I can just offer a fair price now.
Purchasing directly from the maker invests more of your dollars in a higher quality product for yourself, rather than contributing to a manufacturer’s overhead and retail markup. Another way to approach if in the mainstream market is to investigate and understand if your dollar is trading for something that is genuinely a 'quality over quantity' product. A maker, and like thinkers, consider their product for it's entire lifetime (usually decades if it's hand made), whereas chain stores generally focus on the sale of a moment.
In a nutshell, flame retardants used in most couch cushions are toxic chemical mutagens and carcinegans that never go away. Yes. It is unsettling as it sounds...it's quite disturbing indeed. Flame retardants are linked to cancer, thyroid disruption, genetic mutation, lowered IQ, and that’s just to name a few. We may not be able to eliminate every single toxin in our home, but we can definitly do something about it.
Check out HBO’s documentary called ‘The Toxic Hot Seat’, it changed they way I look at furniture forever.
There are plenty of online resources too. NGOs like the Environmental Working Group features a consumer guide that indicates toxic ingredients in over 80K products. The Green Science Policy Institute leads the push against flame retardants and offers a downloadable buyer's guide to Furniture without Added Flame Retardants. Our own blogs, ‘Flame Retardants Are Still a Part of Everyday Life’ provides a general overview and introduction to how these air borne toxins effect us, and ‘The Truth Inside Your Furniture’ reveals what inside your couch will effect your health and the environment. Please explore the links in the aforementioned blogs, and learn how a healthy lifestyle begins with knowledge and green upholstery.
Bioaccumlation is the how and the why, flame retardants are doubly dangerous. FRs (aka flame retardants) accumulate over a long period of time, slowly degrading the health of the body and the planet. The challenge is that these chemical bonds are some of the strongest in all the world of chemistry, and thus live longer and travel farther to effect more organisms. The FRs no loger required by TB117-2013 generally accumulate in the fatty tissue of humans, but the replacement and currently legal FRs pass through the body but reside in the dirt and water. Both scenarios still leave us surrounded by toxins that are up to no good!
The Final Cost
Think about all the old couches in the dump, full of flame retardants and foam, leeching into the environment. The health and environmental cost is a cycle feeding off of each other and entrapping us in the middle. At this point, science and technology haven't a solution to eliminate flame retardants or manage the growing mountains of conventional foam--most conclude we should have never allowed the manufacturing to begin with. Of course, choosing the lesser of two evils is an uncomfortable compromise for everyone.
My advice? Do what you can now. Get informed and make small steps in gaining control of healthy purchases. Start with a few pillows or change out your couch foam for natural latex instead. Question the truth in branded advertising and whether manufacturers are transparent with their product descriptions. Deciding how your purchases effect the quality of your life, both in the short and long term, is a judgement call that can save you in the future.