As concerns about global warming, pollution, habitat loss, and plastic islands in the Pacific grow, more households are making small, daily changes to live a more eco-friendly life.
Considering a reboot? Here are five ideas for greening your household.
Use cold water as much as possible. Don’t overdo the detergent.
Melissa Ozawa, Martha Stewart Living’s features and garden editor, uses a dryer less frequently than she used to, hanging clothes on a rack indoors, or outside in warm weather. When she does use a dryer, she has dumped dryer sheets in favor of wool dryer balls. (Put a drop of essential oil on them for a natural fresh scent, she says.) She hand-washes such things as cashmere sweaters instead of dry-cleaning them. She also wears some clothes more than once to save on washing machine use.
Not too long ago, Ozawa learned about Guppyfriend Washing Bag for fleece and acrylic items. The bag collects microfiber particles released during the washing process so they don't go into the water.
Take a good look under your sink and in your utility closet. Are there piles of one-use plastic bottles holding cleaning products? How much do you know about their formulas?
Some consumers are eschewing harsh chemicals and creating cleaning potions using baking soda, vinegar and lemons. Some seek out brands with plant-based, natural or nontoxic ingredients, such as Seventh Generation, Mrs. Meyer’s or Method. Ikea just introduced Borstad, a spring-cleaning collection made of natural, sustainable materials, including a steel dust pan/beech brush set ($12.99), and a rattan carpet beater ($5.99).
One cleaning product start-up is combining ingredients on the Environmental Protection Agency’s Safer Chemical Ingredients List with BPA-free, refillable acrylic bottles. Blueland sells four types of cleaning products; the bottles are shipped empty, and you just add water and a dissolvable cleaning tablet.
Sarah Paiji Yoo, co-founder and chief executive of Blueland, imagined the line when she became a new mom, cut back on her own plastic consumption, and started questioning ingredients. Starter kits ($39) have four bottles and four corresponding tablets: bathroom, glass and mirror, multi-surface, and hand soap. Additional tablets are $2 each.
Recycling, repurposing or donating clutter is a worthwhile project, but when you start straightening what’s left, don’t begin by buying unnecessary organizing supplies, says Margaret Richey of Margaret Richey Design Sense, whose Maryland business combines home organizing and interior design.
“My goal is to create order and design out of chaos and clutter," Richey says. "In most cases, I try to do that without bringing anything else into the mix.”
Richey shops the house first, and “I am amazed at what I find,” she says. Sometimes she spray-paints glass jars and cans to make them into decorative storage containers. Leftover wrapping paper, anchored with a bit of double-sided tape, can be used to line drawers.
Before tossing half-empty paint cans, consider using the paint for another DIY project. “There is often enough paint to do a bedside table or dresser,” she says.
The Environmental Working Group suggests looking for rugs made of wool or other natural materials such as sisal, jute or sea grass; padding made of wool or felt; and no stain or waterproofing treatments. Look for certification labels such as Green Label Plus or Greenguard low-VOC (meaning volatile organic compounds that can affect indoor air quality).
Tasha Stoiber, a senior scientist at the Environmental Working Group, also suggests choosing PFAS-free rugs. Stoiber recommends rugs with backings made of natural rubber and not PVC, a plastic that can off-gas and contain other harmful chemicals such as phthalates.
If you need to get rid of a rug, it can be hard to find eco-friendly solutions. Rug backing has to be removed for recycling, and it's expensive to do that. There also aren't many recycling facilities. Connolly suggests the Carpet America Recovery Effort website for information.
You can also donate or give away your old rugs.
Fast furniture — cheaply made plastic or particleboard furniture — is likely to end up in a dump before long. Instead of heading to the big-box store, consider giving an old piece of furniture a new life in your home. And when you’re in the market for a new table or chair, check online or in your neighborhood for what’s available in the previously owned marketplace.
“With old furniture, you get a lot of bang for your buck and you get your own signature look, instead of the same style everyone else has these days,” New York designer Anthony Baratta says.
Baratta showcases his finds in his book Decorate Happy: Bold, Colorful Interiors, which is coming out Feb. 18. In many of the spaces, including at Colonial Williamsburg, where he was designer-in-residence last year, he shows examples of taking antique or vintage sofas and chairs and upholstering them in unexpected fabrics such as menswear plaids, bright tartans, and large-scale florals.