Category Archives: Home

zero waste tips for renovating your home

Zero Waste Tips for Renovating Your Home

We recently had a major piece of work done on our home – the addition of a new floor upstairs – and I was absolutely shocked at how eco-unfriendly and wasteful the whole process was. We did our best to ensure that the existing building materials which were still in good condition, such as the slate roof tiles, were reused, recycled or repurposed. It wasn’t a great experience, and when it was all over we came to the clear conclusion that we will be personally be managing any future property improvements ourselves.

But that got me thinking, can you create a luxurious, comfortable home while still saving both environmental and financial resources? Surely there must be companies out there willing to make an effort to reduce the waste in building or renovating a home? And finally, at the end of your project, there must be some creative ways to repurpose unwanted kitchen and bathroom goods rather than sending them to landfill sites?

Here are some ways you can update your home while still keeping your eco cred:

1. Buy a Second Hand Kitchen or Bathroom

We inherited our cheapo white standard IKEA kitchen when we bought our home several years ago. We’ve updated the room by having a pantry built (to match the white finish of the cabinet units), we had the wooden countertops refinished, installed some attractive handmade Spanish tiles and then painted the room a pleasant shade of pale blue. Its a very simple but functional kitchen. In my heart of hearts, I still don’t like the shiny white cabinets though.

I recently saw a piece on the news about a couple of companies which make birch plywood doors designed to fit standard IKEA kitchens like mine. I think they look really cool and appeal to my Canadian/Scandi aesthetic. It could mean just replacing cupboard doors and handles for a kitchen like mine, rather than ripping out all the cupboard units unnecessarily.

But some kitchens are really and truly badly laid out and I know how frustrating that is. You really do need a whole new kitchen when this is the case. If you’re building a home from scratch or doing major renovations to a property, you’ll also be shopping for a whole new kitchen. But the good news is that you don’t need to actually buy a new kitchen – it just needs to be ‘new to you’. You can now buy beautiful kitchens and bathrooms second hand.

There are a few ways of doing this. You can go onto a second hand website like Craigslist (US, Canada & UK), Gumtree (UK), or Kijiji (Canada) or even eBay. You’ll be really surprised with the beautiful high spec kitchens and bathrooms, barely a few years old which you can find for sale second hand.

You can even get a free kitchen (or give your old kitchen or bathroom away rather than having it sent to a landfill site) on Freecycle.

And for those who will not compromise on having their perfect Shaker style kitchen or white Carrara marble counter tops, there are also companies like the Used Kitchen Exchange (UK) which sell both used and ex-display kitchens, bathrooms and other rooms for a fraction of the price of buying them new. You’ll also get the reassurance of 14 day purchase protection.

This family-run business has a number of environmental, social and business awards behind them and all the kitchens they sell have been pre-surveyed for quality. There is a visualisation service so you can see how the kitchen will work in your space and there’s also the possibility of selling them your old high spec kitchen which they will professionally remove (saving the main hassle when you’re selling it yourself).

Photo of Shaker style kitchen

2. Refinish, Repair & Restore, Don’t Replace!

Wooden floors, kitchen work surfaces, banisters, mantles and furniture can all be refinished. Our downstairs neighbour recently had her old gap-py and yellowing pine floor boards sanded down and the gaps between the floor boards filled in, and it looks amazing now – a luxurious Scandi-look pale smoked finish.

All the beautiful natural chalk paints on offer these days can paint over a multitude of sins in your home. I hear great things about UK-based Frenchic and of course you can get Annie Sloan just about anywhere these days (though not as confident in her eco cred as much as Frenchic). They do paints for furniture, walls, trim as well as waxes and something you paint on for a crackle effect if you like that kind of look.

A friend in Canada (well, my BFF really) updated the upholstery on a dozen or so of the old vinyl covered chairs from her in-laws’ long-gone Greek diner from the 50’s and ended up with the most beautiful, sturdy teenage-boy-proof chairs that were both a labour of love and have some family history to them.

Exquisite walnut floor boards or oak stairs could be hiding underneath that horrible carpet from the 80’s and lovingly restoring them may take a little time and effort but will respect the heritage of your home and could save you a lot of money.

Damaged surfaces such as chipped countertops, scratched wood floors, cracked tiles and furniture can all be repaired. I recently read an article in Good Housekeeping singing the praises of a company called Magicman. Their technicians can repair wood, stone, marble, uPVC, veneers, laminates, granite, ceramic tiles, stainless steel and even glass, rectifying chips, dents, scratches, burns, holes and more, on site, nationwide throughout the UK. I haven’t tried them yet, but have a burnt elm Ercol table which could use a little love.

chair-1400315_1920

3. Buy Reclaimed

When shopping for the wooden floors for our new loft bedroom, I was delighted to see that its pretty easy to get a hold of beautiful reclaimed flooring these days. You can always go to a salvage yard to get rough flooring and refinish it yourself, but if you aren’t that brave (like me) you can get it through one of a number of reclaimed wood flooring specialists – just Google ‘reclaimed wood flooring’ and you’ll be surprised by the variety on offer with nationwide delivery.

floor-1866663_1920

4. Recycle, Reuse & Repurpose

And finally, when you have your lovely new home updated, what do you do with what’s left over that you haven’t been able to sell or give away?

If you have an old unwanted carpet, check out Carpet Recycling UK for ideas on how to dispose of it. It can be:

  • Given away on Freecycle.
  • Donated to a furniture reuse network
  • Used in your allotment or community garden (to keep weeds at bay on paths and in plots). Wool carpets have a high nitrogen content which helps to increase growth and growth rates too!
  • Donated to a local animal rescue shelter for kennel mats (especially to keep animals warm in winter).
  • Laid down on your loft/attic floor for some added insulation – it will help retain heat and lower heating bills!
  • Used as a pond liner in your garden.

For a full list of specialist carpet recyclers go to Find A Recycler Near Me.

And all the other leftover bits? What do I do with those? Well, I asked my friends in the Zero Waste community what they’ve done…

  • Sinks and some parts of old kitchen cupboards can be used to make mud kitchens in the garden – lots of kindergartens and preschools want to build mud kitchens and may be happy for the donation.
  • Tiles can be broken up and used as drainage for potted plants.
  • Old bath tubs can be used for raised bed gardens in allotments – great for ‘fussy’ vegetables like asparagus. They can also be used as garden ponds.
  • Old glass shower doors can be used for cold frames in the garden or to cover alpine troughs in winter.
  • Wooden kitchen worktops can be turned into bread boards.
  • Kitchen worktops can be made from old recycled wooden doors.
  • Kitchen cupboards can be downcycled for use in garages, greenhouses and/or potting sheds.
  • Old paint can be given to a community repaint scheme or there may be a donation point at your local recycling centre for paint to be re-used rather than recycled.
  • Anything else you don’t know what to do with? Check the Recycle Now website for ideas.

cafe-436082_1920

This article was in part sponsored by Used Kitchen Exchange

The Certifications You Need to Find the Right “Green” Mattress

A mattress isn’t something you think about until it’s time for a new one. With millions of mattresses sent to landfills each year, they’ve become a growing concern because of the difficulty of their disposal. Growing environmental and human health concerns have begun to change the mattress industry. Today, with the help of certifications from independent organizations, you can find a mattress made through sustainable methods with low environmental impact, and that won’t expose you or your family to harmful chemicals.

Look for Certifications

Mattresses are a complex product with many layers that each have to go through their own manufacturing processes before reaching consumers. In addition to the complexity of the product, the mattress industry does not have a governing body that sets standards or regulations for what constitutes a “green” mattress.

Labels like “organic,” “all-natural,” or even “eco-friendly” may only apply to one component of the mattress or one step of the manufacturing process. Rather than relying on sales labels, it’s better to read the mattresses’ materials list and look for certifications by independent organizations that monitor environmental, social, and human health-related concerns such as:

  • OEKO-TEX Standard 100: For this certification, eighteen independent institutes from Europe and Japan test products to be sure they do not exceed established limits for certain chemicals.

  • CertiPUR-US: This certification only applies to products that use polyurethane foam. The foam is tested for chemical emissions as well as other harmful materials like lead.

  • Eco-Institut: Based in Germany, the Eco-Institut is an independent certification organization that tests for harmful emissions and chemical substances in textiles and building materials. They most often certify latex mattresses.

  • Global Organic Textile Standard (GOTS): GOTS focuses on organic fibers, evaluating both raw materials and their derivatives. The certification is only given to products made with 95 percent certified organic materials. The remaining 5 percent cannot contain other materials that have been known to be harmful to humans, like polyfoam or formaldehyde.

  • Global Organic Latex Standard (GOLS): GOLS only evaluates latex products and is similar to GOTS in that the latex must be at least 95 percent organically produced. Natural latex mattresses may have both a GOTS and GOLS certification.

  • OEKO-TEX MADE IN GREEN: This certification looks at the processes used to produce products and monitors the sustainability of manufacturing practices.

  • Cradle to Cradle: To receive this certification organic fibers and materials are examined and tested for a variety of sustainable criteria like carbon emissions, water conservation, and ecological impact. It is most often applied to natural latex and the organic materials used in mattress covers.

Green Mattress Options

Though there’s no mattress on the market that’s 100 percent green, there are several mattress options that are environmentally friendly. No matter what type of bed you choose, you can check the materials used in the mattress for environmentally friendly options, such as:

  • Plant-based polyfoam and memory foam

  • Organic fibers in the mattress cover like wool and cotton

  • Wool, cotton, thistle, or Kevlar fire socks (Kevlar is not a natural substance but does not have to be treated with any chemicals during production.)

These substances can be found in the basic mattress types—foam, innerspring, hybrid. However, the most environmentally friendly and only mattress option that’s biodegradable is natural latex.

Natural latex mattresses are made from the sap of the rubber tree, a sustainable resource. The sap must go through one of two manufacturing processes, Dunlop or Talalay. The Dunlop process produces a dense, durable mattress with a thicker layer of latex on the bottom. This process is simple, energy efficient, leaves a small carbon footprint, and is less expensive than the Talalay process. (Though it should be noted that latex mattresses are amongst the most expensive mattresses on the market.) The Talalay process takes more resources but produces a softer, bouncier mattress than the Dunlop process.

These natural latex mattresses are technically biodegradable but it takes years to break down, and there will still be a small amount of material left over. They also have some synthetic latex, which is derived from petrochemicals, and these chemicals are expensive.

If a 95 percent natural latex mattress is out of your budget, some natural latex mattresses use a Dunlop core for its denseness with Talalay comfort layers to get the benefits of both. Other manufacturers have begun to combine innersprings with latex for the sustainability of the latex and comfort of the innerspring. These hybrids aren’t as expensive and offer a good combination of comfort and affordability.

You’ll have to weigh in not only environmental and human health concerns when choosing a mattress but comfort issues as well. Look for a mattress with the right certifications so that you know it’s been produced in an eco- and human-friendly way but will also allow you to get a good night’s rest for years to come.

This article was a non-paid collaboration (guest post) with bestmattressreviews.com, a small but valuable website from Seattle staffed by a team of veterans from the mattress industry who write about sleep health and conduct independent reviews on sleep products.

Rick Blanchard is an expert on sleep product materials and manufacturing for BestMattressReviews.com. His research covers the entire life cycle of mattresses and bedding, including production, wear over time, and disposal. Rick lives in Tarrytown, New York.

What’s The Best Natural Pillow?

When you think that we spend a third of our life sleeping, furnishing our bed shouldn’t be an afterthought.  It should actually be a place where we invest in quality.  Unfortunately most pillows and mattresses are covered in serious amounts of toxic flame retardant (filled with hormone disruptors) and formaldehyde.  And as if that isn’t bad enough, no matter how much chemical they slather onto our pillows, that doesn’t prevent them from immediately starting to accumulate fungi, dead skin cells, dust mites, their carcasses and their faeces.  In fact, over time (as little as 18 months), up to 1/2 of the weight of your pillow can be attributed to this delightful cocktail.  So yeah…I wash my pillows pretty frequently.

Over the years I’ve slept on pretty much every kind of pillow going and before I go into why I have settled on my pillow of choice, let me run through the pros and cons of the other pillows I have used (and a couple which I haven’t).

Synthetic Pillows

In my first apartment I had the artificial polyester hollow fibre pillows.  They can be inexpensive, but they don’t last particularly well, as they go flat quickly and when you throw them into the washing machine to clean them, they separate and clump up.  Even a trip through the tumble dryer doesn’t quite put them back to rights, and these misshapen, unsupportive pillows can cause neck pain.  They generally have a life span of about 6 months but should never be kept longer than 2 years.  So you can start to see how investing in a good pillow can make a difference.  I’ve also tried memory foam pillows which I personally found to be awful.  They sound fancy, but they’re just made from polyurethane with other added chemicals.  They gave both of us aching necks (when they were supposed to ease them!) and the smell of them gave us headaches.  They also don’t ventilate well and they can make you sweat quite a lot.  They quickly made it on to the guest bed of unwanted pillows.  Not money well spent.

Feather Pillows

I’m not a fan of feather pillows.  Like the synthetic pillows they can go clumpy (even more so) and I find that the sharp bases of the feather soon start to poke through the pillow, making the pillow a bit spiky and cactus-like.  I also have allergies so I find these pillows exacerbate this problem.  And then there is the issue of the ethics of these pillows.  The feathers often come from birds kept in terrible living conditions which are then plucked alive.  I know John Lewis department store has expectations of animal welfare for the birds which are plucked to fill the feather and down bedding they sell.  In other words, these feathers are by-products of the food industry.  Either way, its not pretty.  Personally I have not found an ethically satisfactory source for feather pillows so I would not recommend them from a comfort, care or ethical standpoint.  However, my husband came with a set of these nasty pillows included…so if you are ever staying in our guest room, all I can say is sorry.

Down Pillows

Now while down feather pillows may face the exact same ethical issues as feather pillows do, they are made from the soft, under-feathers of some types of birds – usually ducks and geese – and they are extremely, deliciously comfortable.  They’re also quite expensive, so you’ve got to watch out for companies selling pillows which are a blend of down and feather.  They’re a long lasting pillow and you can wash them in the washing machine, so long as you don’t try to air dry them.  They WILL MILDEW inside the pillow if you try to air dry them, so be sure to tumble dry them until they are beyond bone dry.  They will once again become fluffy and plump after this process.  My husband uses down pillows on his side of the bed, and I find them easy to care for.  I have not found an entirely ethically satisfactory source for down pillows or duvets, so I make sure I look after the ones we already have very well with regular washing, airing and maintenance.  (See Kapok Pillows below for a great vegan-friendly alternative).

Wool Pillows

Okay, I love wool pillows.  Its incredibly easy to source organic wool pillows and duvets which are locally and ethically made here in the UK as well as in Canada and the US, and they are so comfortable and soft.  I know vegans aren’t too happy about wool, but the fact is that modern sheep breeds need to be sheared, so as long as its a nice organic farm where they love their sheep, I’m okay with that.   Wool pillows don’t go clumpy or lumpy and they don’t go flat.  They’re naturally hypoallergenic, they deter dust mites and wool is a very breathable material.  They’re also super easy to throw in the washing machine on a regular basis too.

Buckwheat, Millet & Spelt Pillows

I have to admit I haven’t tried these, but they may be worth investigating if you like a really firm pillow.  I’m assuming that anyone with coeliac disease or a severe gluten intolerance should probably avoid the spelt pillow and opt for the millet or buckwheat instead, as they are gluten-free fillings.  The millet is smaller and more sand-like, whereas the spelt husks are bigger and have a more massage-like effect on the body.  They also have a high silica content and are considered to help prevent muscle aches and pains.  The buckwheat pillows are robust and supportive while still being light and airy.  They are a great option for anyone who tends to sweat up a storm at night, as they allow moisture and heat to evaporate quickly.

Natural Latex Pillows

I have also not tried natural latex  filled pillows, but they offer a firm support and are a bit bouncy.  They’re also good for people who suffer from dust allergies because they cannot support the growth of bacteria, germs and moulds.  They’re not for people with chemical sensitivities though (lots of people have latex allergies), and some people can detect a slight smell of latex the first few times they use the pillows.

Horsehair Pillows

I’m just gonna say it.  I don’t see myself sleeping on a pillow filled with Black Beauty’s tail.  I don’t care how ethical the sourcing is.  But the advantages to a horsehair pillow are that they provide a medium firm support and are another great one for anyone who gets the night sweats, as they regulate moisture well.  They are warm and dry and the horsehair is said to have anti-rheumatic qualities.

Kapok Pillows

So I’ve saved my absolute favourite for last.  These pillows are incredibly luxurious. If you didn’t know you were sleeping on Kapok you’d swear you were sleeping on the softest down pillow ever.  And its vegan friendly, so if you don’t use animal based fibres in your home, then kapok means that you don’t need to resort to using synthetic fibres. So what the heck is kapok?  Well its a sort of silky fluff which comes from a tree which grows wild in tropical forests.  So while they’re not ‘grown organically’ there’s never any pesticides on them.  These trees are an important part of local economies and therefore are always very well looked after.  The kapok fibre itself contains naturally bitter compounds and that makes it really unattractive to dust mites and other creepy crawlies in general (that was a win for me!) and the fibres are also covered in a sort of wax which cannot absorb or retain moisture, so your  kapok pillow or duvet will always be dry, no matter how damp the weather outside.  Kapok pillows can be washed and tumble dried, but what I love about the one I have is that the organic cotton quilted cover and inner cover can be unzipped, and the soft, downy kapok filling removed while the fabric is being washed.  So if you only want to fluff and ‘air out’ your kapok filling from time to time, its much easier to do so.

OLOL Kapok Pillow

Conclusion

So whatever pillow you opt for, try to find one which provides the right level of support for you, one that is easy to clean on a regular basis (remember the mite faeces & carcasses I mentioned earlier?) and which comes from ethical and environmentally sustainable materials.  Remember that you and your partner don’t necessary need to have the same pillow – one of you might benefit from a firm buckwheat pillow, while the other luxuriates on the softness of kapok.  Personally I love supporting small, local producers and manufacturers.  My organic wool and kapok pillows are simply the best pillows I have ever had.  I can’t remember where my wool pillows from Canada were bought now (somewhere in Canada, obviously!), but the kapok pillows came from Greenfibres, a shop based down in Devon which also produces organic wool, buckwheat, spelt, natural latex and horsehair pillows in the same nifty design where you can remove the filling for airing, cleaning and to adjust the height and density of the pillow.  I’m just going to big up this shop a bit because they were incredibly helpful in talking me through the process of finding a new pillow – in fact I’d have never known about kapok pillows if it weren’t for them – and they’re on Etsy as well, so if you can’t find a local supplier in your own country, you can order them internationally as well.

And because I care about you guys and I really  hate the thought of you sleeping on dust mite poop, I’d also like to share with you this great, short video from Clean My Space which I discovered during the ‘nesting phase’ of my pregnancy and its where I learned how to clean and maintain my pillows and duvets: