Life after Plastic

Plastics are everywhere. But although it is a very affordable and convenient material, plastic is very often toxic to produce, toxic to use and also toxic in its disposal.

Scientists are increasingly finding that there may be hidden costs to our health. Some common plastics release harmful chemicals into the air and into food and drinks. Maybe you can’t see or taste it, but if your dinner came in a plastic tray, you’re likely eating a little bit of plastic with your dinner.

On top of this the use of plastics cause an enormous amount of enduring pollution as every bit of plastic that has ever been created still exists, except for the small amount that has been incinerated,  releasing toxic chemicals in the process. Plastic waste is accumulating in huge quantities in the sea where fish are ingesting toxic plastic bits at a rate which means they may become unfit for consumption.

So how can we reduce chemical in the home?

Making Better and Safer choices

  • Reduce use of plastic. Look for natural alternatives like textiles, solid wood, bamboo, glass, stainless steel, etc.
  • Look for items with less plastic packaging or better none at all. If you cannot avoid plastic, opt for products you can recycle or re-purpose (e.g. a yogurt tub can be re-used to store crayons or sewing cottons and bits).
  • Get to know your plastics – see guide below:

The most common plastics have a resin code in a chasing arrow symbol (often found on the bottom of the product).  This list is just a rough guide and by no means definitive.

PET (Polyethylene Terephthalate): AVOID
Common Uses: Soda Bottles, Water Bottles, Cooking Oil Bottles
Concerns: Can leach antimony and phthalates.

HDPE (High Density Polyethylene): SAFER
Common Uses: Milk Jugs, Plastic Bags, Yogurt Cups

PVC (Polyvinyl Chloride, aka Vinyl): AVOID
Common Uses: Condiment Bottles, Cling Wrap, Teething Rings, Toys, Shower Curtains
Concerns: Can leach lead and phthalates among other things. Can also off-gas toxic chemicals.

LDPE (Low Density Polyethylene): SAFER
Common Uses: Produce Bags, Food Storage Containers

PP (Polypropylene): SAFER
Common Uses: Bottle Caps, Storage Containers, Dishware

PS (Polystyrene, aka Styrofoam): AVOID
Common Uses: Meat Trays, Foam Food Containers & Cups
Concerns: Can leach carcinogenic styrene and estrogenic alkylphenols

Other.  Includes:
PC (Polycarbonate): AVOID – can leach Bisphenol-A (BPA). It also includes ABS (Acrylonitrile Butadiene Styrene), SAN (Styrene Acrylonitrile), Acrylic, and Polyamide. These plastics can be a safer option because they are typically very durable and resistant to high heat resulting in less leaching. Their drawbacks are that they are not typically recyclable and some need additional safety research.

Green and White Flower Cotton Bag
Green and White Flower Cotton Bag

A few suggestions to become more green:

Textile bags are reusable, washable, biodegradable, eco-friendly and can be easily made from fabric remnants.   Watch for our post on How to make a Textile Shopping Bag – coming soon.  See here for textile bags or visit our eBay shop for bags and fabric remnants.

Make your own yoghurt and recycle the same pot each time, or use your own ceramic or glass pot. There are a number of online sites that give instructions and if you have an airing cupboard it is very easy and costs a fraction of the price in the shops (about 55-60p per 500ml using organic milk.

Have you got ideas to share?  Please let us know your ideas.

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Recycling, upcycling, precycling?

Director's Chair with patchwork cover
Director's Chair revived with patchwork cover

This Director’s Chair was looking rather tired.  The fabric had faded in the sunlight but was otherwise in good condition, although the area where the screws hold the back panel in place had become stretched and weren’t holding the back section upright anymore.

I decided to give it a makeover and made patchwork from a variety of strong cotton fabrics in complementary greens and yellows in florals, checks and stripe patterns.  At the same time I reinforced the areas where the back bolts slot through into the frame to make sure they would hold securely.  The end result has not only given the chair a fresh feel but means that it will last a lot longer as stitching the patchwork on top of the original canvas has given it extra sturdiness.  I also gave the wood a coat of Danish oil as it was rough and dry and had been bleached by the sun and this will also help to protect it from the elements, although I probably won’t leave it outside in the rain as that would spoil the pretty patchwork over time.

Is this recycling or upcycling?  A bit of both maybe?  The fabrics used were recycled materials from pattern books, and the chair became enhanced and of value again as a result.  The chair itself is a good example of ‘precycling’.  This is when the materials used to make a product are chosen for their environmental footprint prior to production.  The wood from the frame could be repaired many times over and when it finally reaches the end of its life it can be used as firewood.  The oil used does not contain any chemicals that could be harmful.  The fabrics are a mix of cotton and linen and are biodegradable over time and will become compost.  The bolts could come in handy for repairing something else at a later date.

Have you got any projects you would like to tell the world about?

Patchwork detail

Patchwork detail

Prefer natural fibres? Alpaca wool is great for cushion fillings

Do you have allergies to feathers or dust mites?  Do you prefer natural fibres to fibres derived from petro chemicals?  Do you look for quality products that last, rather than something that has to be replaced every 6-12 months?  Cushion inner pads in 100% natural Alpaca wool could be an alternative.

Looking for ways around dependence on the oil industry and also to reduce carbon footprint of the business I came across locally based Spring Farm Alpacas.  A visit to the farm introduced me to these delightful animals whose wool is naturally soft and cuddly, and it rapidly became obvious that the high standards of animal husbandry at Spring Farm ensure that their herd’s fleeces are exceptionally lustrous and full of bounce.

Alpaca Wool Filling
Alpaca Wool Filling

Wool is naturally flame retardant and does not need to be treated with any chemicals therefore making it an ideal material for people who experience allergic reactions to a wide range of substances in the home.  In addition, Alpaca wool is said to be particularly hypo-allergenic.

Alpaca Wool Cushion Inner
Alpaca Wool Cushion Inner

Test driving the cushion inners throughout the cold winter months revealed that not only are the fillers soft and comfy, but they also bring a warm glow to the back on cooler evenings.  Using organic cotton for the covers completes the chemical free experience.  I have started with cushion fillers in 16″ size as this is the most popular.  However, any size could be made to order.

Baby Organic Cushion
Baby Organic Cushion

Using textiles and fibres in the home that are free of chemical additives is particularly beneficial where there are young children or a small baby.  There are hidden pollutants in many furnishings.  Or if you  just want to become more green and move away from products dependent on the oil industry,  towards things that are renewable and biodegradable, then choosing wool fillers and cushion covers in natural fabrics such as organic hemp, linen and wool will help to put you on the road to a healthy home.

Cushion in Organic Hemp in Alabaster White with Pink, Feather Filling
Cushion in Organic Hemp in Alabaster White with Pink, Feather Filling
Sea Foam Blue Green Organic Hemp Cushion with Alpaca Wool Filling
Sea Foam Blue Green Organic Hemp Cushion with Alpaca Wool Filling

What about Organic Bamboo?

Organic Bamboo

Are you as confused about the pros and cons of bamboo textiles as we were?  Modern, high tech production and processing methods mean bamboo textiles are rapidly gaining in popularity.   But is bamboo really a sound environmental choice?

First the excellent reasons why you might want to consider buying bamboo clothing or products for the home:

  • The fibres stay naturally fresh due to their unique anti-bacterial, anti-fungal properties, which remain even after frequent washing.  The fabric is ideal for those with skin reactions or allergies and fantastic for all sorts of products for the home as it will not develop mould even when exposed to moisture for long periods of time.
  • The fabric is cool and comfortable to wear in hot weather due to its cellular structure which makes it extremely absorbant and able to evaporate perspiration in seconds.  It allows air to pass through, remaining cool to the touch and never feeling sticky, meaning skin can breathe.  It is 3-4 times more absorbent than cotton, keeping you drier in a heatwave
  • Naturally blocks 91% of UVA and 98% of UVB rays providing screening from the sun’s rays, and making it ideal for curtains and soft furnishings
  • Silky soft and extremely comfortable to wear and a great choice for those with sensitive skin conditions or those who have had allergic reactions to fabrics in the past.  It is also anti-static.
  • Bamboo is fully biodegradable by microorganisms in the soil and by sunshine thanks to its natural cellulose composition and therefore can contribute to reduced environmental impact
  • As the plants grow without pesticides, herbicides or chemical additives of any kind soil balance is maintained
  • Protects the environment as it needs no irrigation other than natural rainfall
  • Highly sustainable:  bamboo grows very fast, sometimes up to 3 feet in a night.   It also does not need to be replanted, rather the stalks are cut off above the ground and will continue to grow and sprout new shoots.  In addition  it’s vast root system helps to prevent soil erosion and it balances the atmosphere,  producing the most oxygen of all plants and consuming the most carbon dioxide.  All of which reduces the impact of the textile industry.

At the present stage in the technology of fibre production, the only way to turn bamboo into a soft yarn fibre is to dissolve it using chemicals like sodium hydroxide, and then solidify the extruded filament using a chemical such as sulfuric acid.  It is important that these strong chemicals are neutralised and not returned to the water system untreated.  Look for a supplier who uses methods, for example enzymes, that ensure that the waste water is cleansed after processing and meets high environmental standards. Our supplier, OEcotextiles, is constantly vigilant and working to further neutralise the effects of present production methods and overcome the less eco-friendly aspects.

Overall bamboo’s positive environmental and health benefits make it a strong addition to the range of fibres available.   Something tells me we’ll be seeing and hearing a lot more of bamboo in the future.  Feel like sharing your experiences of this fabulous new fibre?

Eco at Home

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Our home is an extension of our body, an outer shell.   How we furnish our home environment is as important as the quality of food that we eat and the quality of the air that we breathe.

You may be surprised to know that, in our ‘modern’ world it has become usual to preserve home furnishings in the same way as foods, as a means to improving wear or maintenance, texture or appearance.  Additives such as formaldehyde are used to make fabric ‘crease resistant’ or ‘easy-care’ and remnants of chemicals used in the dying process such a dioxins and even heavy metals are often present.  Even many so-called natural fabrics have been treated with potentially harmful chemicals, either during the growing cycle, to improve crop resistance and increase harvest, or as applied finishes.  These chemicals can pose a threat to human health and well-being.

Non-synthetic fibres such as cotton, linen wool, jute, sisal, coir, hemp, bamboo can be processed in ways that demand less treating although cotton is a very thirsty plant and does need large amounts of water to grow sucessfully.    These fabrics can also be coloured with natural dyes which have far less impact on the environment.  They are also biodegradable and can be recycled.   Hemp for example has a very long life, being very hard wearing, and its texture actually tends to improve with age.

For some examples of how to become more green and take the first steps towards using eco fabrics in the home, visit http://www.designercushionsandthrows.co.uk

Cushions in 'Hardy Organic Hemp' from the Emily Todhunter Collection at OEcotextiles
Cushions in 'Hardy Organic Hemp' from the Emily Todhunter Collection at OEcotextiles