Tips for an Eco-Friendly Holiday Season

Greening up your holidays allows you to revel in holiday spirit without all the over-consumption and wastefulness (from Thanksgiving through New Year's Day household waste increases by over 25%!). It really is simple to have a fun, budget-friendly, healthy and eco-friendly holiday season. Just follow these tips, sit back, and enjoy the season with family and friends (isn't that what it's really about anyway?).

You don't have to spend a lot to give meaningful gifts your family and friends will enjoy and appreciate. Click here for Everyday Green's list of green gift ideas. Once you've selected your green gifts, opt for wrapping paper made from recycled paper. Even better, wrap gifts in materials you already have on hand like fabric, the comics, or grocery bag paper you've decorated yourself.

Travel is a major part of the holidays for many people. Remember, buses and trains have less of an impact on your wallet and the environment than air travel. And if you're going to be away, remember to turn down the thermostat and turn off the lights to save energy while you’re gone.

With the holiday company coming you'll want to get your home looking its best. If you haven't done so already, swap those expensive, chemical-laden cleaning products for inexpensive, non-toxic solutions you can make right at home. With a few simple products, like vinegar, baking soda and peroxide, you can get your house just as clean as with traditional cleaning products. Click here for details.

When decorating utilize materials you already have on hand or purchase items you can use again. Bringing the outside in (think pine cones, plant or flower clippings, and living plants) is a great way to decorate for little or no money. Plus, holiday craft making is a wonderful activity the whole family can enjoy together.

If you must decorate with lights, switch to energy-efficient LED lights. They are brighter and use 90% less energy than conventional holiday lights, saving you up to $50 on your energy bills during the holiday season.

If you're decorating with candles, avoid traditional paraffin candles. Despite how nice they may look or smell, these candles and the smoke and soot they produce contain harmful toxins. The American Lung Association and the EPA have warned consumers that using paraffin candles decreases indoor air quality. The fumes released by paraffin candles are comparable to those produced by burning diesel. For a healthier, greener alternative look for candles made from soy or beeswax with non-lead wicks that are scented with essential oil.

The debate over real versus artificial Christmas trees replays every year. Real Christmas trees can be costly, are typically treated with pesticides, and add to an already large amount of post-holiday trash. Artificial trees are non-biodegradable and contain lead and other additives linked to liver, kidney, neurological and reproductive system damage in lab animals. And according to the Children’s Health Environmental Coalition', artificial trees “may shed lead-laced dust, which may cover branches or shower gifts and the floor below the tree”, posing a health risk to children.

Environmentally and health-wise, real trees hold the advantage over artificial. Look for a locally grown, organic tree. Even better, pick up a potted tree this Christmas. A small (no bigger than 4 feet) tree in a planter that is kept in a cool indoor space can survive indoors until the ground thaws in the spring and it can be planted. Larger potted trees and those that come with a root ball last no more than a few days before they must be planted outdoors. If you don’t have the land for replanting, you can always donate the tree to the local parks department or to someone who does have the space.

Thanks to the 4,000-plus recycling programs available in the U.S., over 90% of all Christmas trees get recycled. Do the green thing and visit earth911.org to find the tree-recycling program near you.

When preparing your holiday meals opt for organic and local. Doing so helps ensure that you're getting the freshest, most nutritious food that hasn’t been chemically modified to keep its appearance after traveling half way around the world. Plus, you'll be supporting your local economy. You can find farmers’ markets, farms, and community-supported agriculture programs in your area at localharvest.org. For help planning your meal around what’s in season check out the seasonal produce guide available at sustainabletable.org.

Buying food in bulk will reduce packaging waste and save you money, but you don't want to overbuy and waste food. You can cut down on waste by planning ahead and calculating how much food you will actually need. This list of approximate food and drink portions should help:

Turkey - 1 pound per person
Stuffing - ¼ pound per person
Casserole side dish - ¼ pound per person
Vegetable side dish - ¼ pound per person
Sauce or Chutney - 3 tablespoons per person
Pie (9-inch) - 1/8 slice per person

Keeping track of how much was consumed can help you better plan for future holiday meals.

For drinks, consider serving biodynamic wine. There is a growing number of sustainable wines available and many are quite reasonably priced. Click here to learn more.

Finally, remember to take time to enjoy. Forget all the “stuff” and celebrate all have to be grateful for.

Have a happy, healthy, and green holiday season!


Everyday Green Home Edition: Energy Conservation Guide

In these tough economic times it's important to cut costs everywhere we can. When it comes to energy conservation, very simple changes can have a significant impact. The average American household spends about $1,900 a year in energy costs. Plus, there's the environmental cost – residential energy use accounts for about 20% of the country's greenhouse gas emissions.

Taking even just a few of the following steps can make a difference – in your carbon footprint and in your wallet.

Sealing and Insulating
Find and seal air leaks. Check doors, windows, electrical conduits, plumbing fixtures, ceiling fixtures, the attic, and anywhere else air may escape for leaks. Use weather-stripping or caulk to repair any leaks.

Make sure your home is properly insulated. Check the insulation in your attic, ceilings, exterior and basement walls, floors, and crawl spaces to see if it meets the levels recommended for your area. The U.S. Department of Energy offers an online Zip Code Insulation Calculator which provides insulation levels for your home based on your zip code and other basic information about your home.

Heating and Cooling
Install a programmable thermostat. A programmable thermostat allows you to preset temperatures for different times of the day, so you can leave temperatures higher when you're out and cooler when you're home (reverse during the winter). A programmable thermostat is relatively inexpensive ($30 to $50), easy to install, easy to use, and can save you 10% to 20% on heating and cooling costs.

Keep air filters clean. Check air filters once a month and clean or replace them when necessary. Doing so can save you 5% to 15% on heating and cooling costs.

Keep the air flowing. Make sure there is nothing, like draperies or furniture, blocking air vents. If you do find that air is blowing up behind curtains, there are inexpensive air directors you can pick up at the hardware store to direct the flow of air out into the room.

Use kitchen and bathroom ventilating fans only for the amount of time truly necessary – typically no more than 20 minutes.

Use window treatments wisely. During the summer, keep window treatments closed during the day to avoid the extra heat of the sun. In wintertime, pull back the window coverings on your south-facing windows during the day to allow sunlight in.

When it's time to purchase new heating and cooling equipment, look for energy efficient models. Since these are the type of items that often need to be replaced unexpectedly and quickly, it's a good idea to research the best options ahead of time so you know what to buy when the time comes.

Water Heating
Install low-flow shower heads to save water without sacrificing pressure. An efficient shower head will save a family of four up to $285 per year. They typically cost less than $15 and are simple to install.

Put aerators on all your faucets and cut your annual water consumption by 50%. If you are in the market for a new faucet, look for 0.5 to 1 gallon per minute (gpm) models.

Increase your hot water heater's efficiency. Put an insulating jacket around your water heater and secure (with tape, wire, or a clamp) foam pipe sleeves around the hot water pipes and three feet of the cold water inlet pipe.

Turn the temperature on your water heater down to 120 degrees. Doing so will reduce the heater's energy consumption by 5% to 10% and prevent scalding.

Drain a quart of water from your water tank every 3 months to remove sediment that can make your water heater less efficient. This is especially helpful if you live in a community with hard water.

When it's time to replace your water heater, look for an energy efficient model. They may cost more up front, but you'll quickly make your money back in reduced energy costs. The water heater is another item that usually needs to be replaced quickly, so do some research ahead of time so you know what to purchase when the time comes.

LightingReplace your incandescent light bulbs with energy-efficient compact fluorescent light bulbs (CFLs). They use up to 70% less energy and last up to 10 times longer. Make sure they are Energy Star-certified.

For those who don't like CFLs' cold, bluish-white light or how long some of them can take to light up completely there is the Energy Smart hybrid Halogen-CFL light bulb by GE. It combines the instant brightness of halogen technology with the energy efficiency and longer rated life of CFL technology. It casts the same kind of warm glow as an incandescent bulb and is even shaped like a standard bulb, but it lasts eight times longer than incandescent bulbs. 



Look for the Energy Star label when purchasing light fixtures like lamps, vanity fixtures, and outdoor lights. These products distribute light more efficiently and evenly than traditional fixtures.

Always remember to turn lights off when not in use. Use dimmers to adjust lights so that you are only using the amount of energy you truly need.

Appliances
Keep your refrigerator between 36 and 40 degrees Fahrenheit and your freezer between 0 and 5 degrees Fahrenheit. Doing so saves energy while still keeping food at the proper temperature.

Only run your dishwater when it is full and use unheated air to dry dishes. Make sure to use the most appropriate wash setting for each load so you're not using more electricity and water than actually required.

When using the stove top, make sure to match the pot you are using with the right size burner to avoid unnecessary heat loss. Even using a 6-inch pot on an 8-inch burner can waste over 40% of the burner's heat. Use close-fitting lids on pots whenever possible (always when you're bring something to a boil) to keep heat in and reduce cooking times.

When it makes sense to do so, skip the stove altogether in favor of a low-energy cooking appliance like a pressure cooker, steamer, slow cooker, toaster oven, or even a barbeque grill.

Only wash full loads of laundry. Cold water rinses detergent out just as well as warm or hot water, so always select the cold rinse option on your washing machine. Most laundry can also be washed with cold water as well, so give it a second thought next time you go to wash something in warm or hot water. Using only cold water for washing clothes would save you at least $100 a year.

Air dry laundry on a clothes line or drying racks. Your clothes will last longer and you'll save up to $75 a year. 


For the times you do use your dryer, make sure it is running efficiently. Check the exhaust vent every so often to make sure it closes tightly and clean the lint filter after every load. If doing more than one load, try to do one right after the other to take advantage of the leftover heat. 
Unplug small appliances, like toasters and coffeemakers, when not in use. Standby usage accounts for anywhere from 6% to 26% of a homes' electricity use.

When shopping for a new appliance, look for the Energy Star label. It will tell you the annual energy consumption and operating cost for each appliance so you can accurately compare both the up front price and the monthly energy cost you'll be paying for the following 10 to 20 years.

Electronics
Turn off electronics when they are not in use. Use a power strip for an easy one-click shut off option. 

When in the market for new electronics, opt for energy-efficient models when available. An Energy Star labeled computer uses 70% less electricity than computers without Energy Star certification.

Skip the screen saver, which doesn't save any energy, and set up your computer to automatically switch to sleep mode instead. Manually turning off the monitor saves even more energy.

When it's time to upgrade your computer, consider buying a laptop. They use much less energy than desktop computers.

Charge your cell phone with a car charger or your computer's USB port when you're online. Less than 10% of the power drawn from a wall plug by a cell phone charger is actually used to charge the phone. The rest is wasted. So, at the very least, make sure to unplug all electronic chargers once batteries are done charging.

Once your disposable batteries are depleted replace them with rechargeable batteries. They may cost slightly more upfront, but they can be reused for years. Rechargeable batteries are a good choice for most frequently-used devices such as wireless mice and keyboards, radios, cameras, calculators, remote controls, and toys.

Finally, get more individualized advice with a home energy audit. Most public utilities will conduct a free home energy audit for a customer. Or, you can conduct one yourself following the U.S. Department of Energy's Do-It-Yourself Home Energy Assessment Guide.


Everyday Green Home Edition: Green Home Decorating

Modern. Traditional. Country. Eclectic. Whichever your personal home decorating style, you want your home to be a place of comfort. A place that is welcoming to family and friends, but can serve as your own personal fortress of solitude when needed. Furnishing and decorating your home in an eco-conscious manner helps protect your health and the environment. Shouldn't that be included in the “creature comforts of home"?

Green home decorating doesn't have to be difficult or expensive. Use the following guide to get you started and you'll soon realize how quickly eco-friendly decorating can become second nature.

Start by taking a look at what you already own. It's amazing what you can do by simply moving furniture around. Moving furniture and accessories (like lamps and wall art) around a room or even from one room to another can help you achieve a whole new look. Before you get rid of anything ask yourself if it could be used in another space or completely re-purposed.

You don't need to be especially crafty to refinish home goods. Update a sofa with a slipcover or make a bookcase new again with a fresh coat of paint. Simply changing the knobs on a dresser can give it a whole new look. Go online for a never-ending supply of ideas on how to re-purpose and re-finish furniture.

If there is anything you do want to get rid of, consider making your trash someone else’s treasure. Have a yard sale, use Craigslist or eBay, and check out local consignment shops. You’ll make money, while keeping those items out of landfills. You could also try organizing a housewares swap with friends. Donate anything you don’t sell or swap. Look into organizations like the Salvation Army that take donations (many provide a free pick up service) or try Freecycle – an online nonprofit that helps you to donate to people in your community.

If you are looking to buy, you may want to consider checking Freecycle for free options first. Then, check out thrift stores, garage sales, Craigslist, and eBay.

Eco-friendly home goods are a fast-growing industry. If are looking to buy new, you now have several more green options than you would have had just a couple years ago. Even stores like Pottery Barn, Crate and Barrel, and Target have started offering organic, eco-friendly, and sustainable home goods. When shopping for home goods:

Start by considering a product's durability and longevity. Resist choosing the cheapest option if you know you will only be using it for a short period of time. It's better to save up and shop around for something of quality that will last than to buy a quick fix product you'll have to replace in short time.

Look for upholstered furniture covered in natural materials like organic cotton and wool and filled with natural latex foam. Avoid any upholstery labeled as stain resistant since that means it's been treated with a chemical containing perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA) which the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) labeled as "likely to be carcinogenic to humans." Studies show PFOA to be present in the bloodstream of 9 out of 10 Americans so you want to cut down on exposure whenever you can.

When buying a mattress look for one made of natural latex (not memory foam!) covered in organic cotton or wool (which is naturally fire retardant).

Consider sustainability when buying wood furniture. A lot of today's wood furniture relies on unsustainable harvesting methods. Look for wood that’s certified by the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC), an international, non-profit organization that requires companies to meet strict economic, social, and environmental standards to become certified. Look for the FSC logo on furniture, ask your retailer, or use the FSC's online database to find certified vendors.

Also consider furniture made from reclaimed wood or a renewable resource like bamboo. Bamboo is a great choice because it’s fast-growing and requires no pesticides and little water. It's incredibly versatile, used to make furniture, window treatments, flooring, textiles, plates, utensils, and more.

Steer clear of furniture made from manufactured wood products (i.e., particleboard, fiberboard, plywood) because they typically contain formaldehyde glues. Also avoid products made with vinyl or imitation leather since they most likely contain phthalate-based PVC. Products made from metal and glass are safer options because they are inert materials which don’t offgas.

Also consider how products are finished since many paints and stains contain formaldehyde and other volatile organic compounds (VOCs). Unfinished furniture you can finish yourself with low- or no-VOC paint or stain is a great way to get quality pieces you can customize yourself at a reduced cost.

Local craft fairs can be a good source of well-crafted, unique, and eco-friendly artisan furniture and home goods. Or, you can take your search global with eBay Green. eBay Green is a multi-seller marketplace for socially and environmentally responsible shopping.

So go forth and decorate to your heart's content. Just remember: “A house is made of walls and beams; a home is built with love and dreams.”


Note: For bigger home renovations check out Green Home Improvements for help selecting eco-friendly countertops, flooring, and paint.


       


       

Everyday Green Home Edition: Green Up Your Kitchen

The kitchen is the heart of the home – the central place for family and friends to gather and catch up, gossip, reminisce while breaking bread. It only makes sense that such a room be as green as possible – protecting the health of your family and friends, the environment and, not to mention, your wallet.

Follow these guidelines for a cleaner, healthier, greener kitchen.

Saving Energy
The refrigerator is a major guzzler of energy. Keeping your refrigerator between 36 and 40 degrees Fahrenheit and your freezer between 0 and 5 degrees Fahrenheit saves energy while still keeping food at the proper temperature. Properly maintaining your refrigerator can also help it run more efficiently and last longer. This includes unplugging it and wiping off the condenser coils at least once a year. Check your user's manual for additional specifications on how to keep your fridge running efficiently.

Save on the energy used by your dishwasher by only running full loads and using unheated air to dry dishes. Make sure to use the most appropriate wash setting for each load so you're not using more electricity and water than actually required.

When using the stove top, make sure to match the pot you are using with the right size burner to avoid unnecessary heat loss. Even using a 6-inch pot on an 8-inch burner can waste over 40% of the burner's heat. Use close-fitting lids on pots whenever possible (always when you're bring something to a boil) to keep heat in and reduce cooking times.

An even more energy-efficient option is to skip the stove altogether and use a low-energy cooking appliance like a pressure cooker, steamer, slow cooker, or even a barbeque grill instead.

Before replacing an appliance check if a repair is a viable alternative. You can save money and avoid throwing out such a large item before it's truly necessary. When the time does come to replace an appliance, look for a new one with a high Energy Star rating and contact your local department of public works for help properly disposing your old appliance.

Finally, remember to swap your incandescent light bulbs with energy-efficient compact fluorescent light bulbs (CFLs). They use 70% percent less energy and last up to 10 times longer.

Saving Water
The simplest and least expensive way to save water in the kitchen is to install a tap aerator on your kitchen faucet. For about a dollar you can cut your water consumption by 50%. If you are in the market for a new faucet, look for a 0.5 to 1 gallon per minute (gpm) model.

Only running the dishwasher when it's full will help save water as well as energy.

Save extra water, like water used for cooking or rinsing, and feed it to your plants rather than pouring it down the drain.

Reducing WasteThe kitchen typically generates more waste than any other room in the house. You can help cut back on waste by being careful with what you bring into your home in the first place. Avoid excessive packaging at the grocery store. Bring your own bags. Opt for fresh, unwrapped produce. Choose products in recyclable or reusable containers, such as cardboard cartons or glass jars. Go even greener and grow your own food in a home garden.

Reuse or recycle as much as you can. This includes using dishtowels and cloth napkins that can be washed and used again instead of disposable paper towels and napkins. Keep a recycling bin in the kitchen if it makes recycling easier to remember.

Go a step beyond recycling and compost your food scraps. Using compost you create from food scraps and yard waste keeps organic materials out of landfills and saves you money on commercial fertilizers.

Instead of plastic trash bags that take years to decompose, purchase biodegradable trash bags (available online). If you can't find biodegradable bags, at least purchase bags made from recycled materials.

Cookware
Invest in high quality cookware and utensils that last, rather than cheap items that will need to be replaced in short order.

Although there are some health concerns associated with nonstick cookware, it can be difficult to cook certain foods, particularly eggs, on anything else. Nonstick cookware can be safe to use as long as you take care to not heat pans too high or scratch the chemical coating – the two ways harmful chemicals can be released into the air. Add water or oil to nonstick cookware to absorb heat before turning on the stove and then make sure to only use medium heat (350 to 400 degrees Fahrenheit) or lower. Wash nonstick cookware by hand using nonabrasive cleaners and sponges and avoid using metal utensils or stacking pots and pans to avoid scratching. If any of your nonstick cookware does become scratched, toss it or (for a slightly more eco-friendly option) bring it to a scrap metal yard.

You can also rotate out any nonstick cookware with pieces made from other materials. Health Canada has a great overview of the benefits and risks of various cookware materials. It's best to have an assortment. Stainless steel, cast iron, ceramic, Pyrex, and silicone are all good options for cookware and bakeware.

Food Containers
The list of health problems associated with plastics seems to grow longer by the day. For safer, healthier options, invest in food and beverage containers made of glass, ceramic, porcelain, Pyrex, bamboo, or stainless steel instead of using bags, containers, and bottles made of plastic.

Avoid heating food in plastic containers, especially polycarbonate plastic food containers. Polycarbonate containers that contain BPA usually have a #7 recycling code on them.

Avoid putting plastic containers in the dishwasher. Yes, the dishwasher uses less water and energy than hand washing, but the heat and harsh detergent may cause may cause plastic to leach chemicals.

If you absolutely must have plastic food containers, opt for those labeled as PETE or recycling codes #2, #4, and #5. Avoid those labeled #3 or #7.

Cleaning Green
Traditional cleaning products can contain ingredients that are harmful to your health and the environment. Fortunately, the number of green cleaning products available today continues to grow. Check out What to Look For In Green Cleaning Products to learn about what to look for and what to avoid in cleaning products.

Or, you can avoid commercial cleaning products altogether by creating your own simple, inexpensive cleaning solutions right at home. Put distilled white vinegar in a spray bottle to create an all-purpose cleaner you can use on glass, doorknobs, appliances, and counter tops (just avoid using it on marble). Add a little baking soda for extra scrubbing power. Spray your kitchen countertops with undiluted vinegar and then 3% hydrogen peroxide to disinfect. This combination is as effective as bleach at killing bacteria like E. coli and Salmonella, but is safe enough to use on produce without so much as an aftertaste. Click here for more green cleaning tips.



Everyday Green Home Edition: Green Up Your Bathroom

With its heavy use of water and electricity, the bathroom is responsible for a significant portion of your home energy costs. Therefore, it's a great room to start with when greening up your home. A few small steps can make a sizable impact.

Start by reducing water consumption.
  • Install low-flow shower heads to save water without sacrificing pressure. An efficient shower head will save a family of four up to $285 per year. They typically cost less than $15 and are simple to install. 
  • Put an aerator on the faucet and cut your annual water consumption by 50%. If you are in the market for a new faucet, look for 0.5 to 1 gallon per minute (gpm) models. 
  • Install a low-flow toilet. They use only 1.6 gallons per flush, compared to 3.5 gallons per flush for pre-1994 models. If you have an older model, adjust your float valve to admit less water into the toilet's tank. To check for tank leaks, put several drops of food coloring in the tank and see if the color makes its way into the bowl, indicating a leak. 

Then, focus on energy usage. The energy used to heat up water accounts for 19% of total home energy usage, so reducing hot water will significantly reduce energy consumption. Here are the simplest ways to cut back on hot water.
  • For about $20 and 5 minutes of your time you can make your hot water heater more efficient. Just put an insulating jacket around your water heater and secure (with tape, wire, or a clamp) foam pipe sleeves around the hot water pipes and three feet of the cold water inlet pipe. Doing so will save you up to 10% on water heating costs and cut down on the time it takes for your shower to warm up. 
  • When it's time to replace your water heater, look for an energy efficient model. They may cost more up front, but you'll quickly make your money back in reduced energy costs. 
  • Turn the temperature on the water heater down to 120 degrees. Doing so will reduce the heater's energy consumption by 5% to 10% and prevent scalding. 

And don't forget one of the easiest ways to save energy . . . replace your incandescent light bulbs with energy-efficient compact fluorescent light bulbs (CFLs). They use 66% percent less energy and last up to 10 times longer.

Opting for eco-friendly materials in your towels and bathroom d├ęcor is another great way to green up your bathroom. Due to its excessive use of insecticides and pesticides, conventional cotton is considered the world's dirtiest crop. Therefore, towels made from organic cotton, bamboo, or hemp are better options for your health and the environment. Shower curtains and bath mats are perpetually damp so they're prone to dank smells, mold and bacteria. Curtains and mats made of natural, washable materials, like organic cotton, bamboo, hemp, linen, and cork, are easier to maintain, last longer, and have a smaller environmental impact than plastic products. Even curtains made from synthetic materials like nylon and polyester are better options than PVC shower curtains because, despite being petroleum-derived, they do not off gas like PVC.

You may not give it much thought, but bathrooms require a lot of caulking and conventional caulk contains chemicals that can pose a health danger without proper ventilation. Safer, greener caulk is low in VOCs, lasts at least 10 years, and can be cleaned up with water or a mild solvent. Avoid using PVC- or oil-based caulk. Instead, the Environmental Protection Agency recommends polyurethane caulk for sealing masonry and acrylic latex caulk is good for dry surfaces like plumbing penetrations and gaps in wood.

Finally, take a look at your everyday habits.
  • Shorten your shower by a minute or two and you'll save up to 150 gallons of water a month. 
  • Turn the water off when you brush your teeth and save 4.5 gallons of water each time. 
  • Don't forget to recycle toiletry bottles, soap packaging, and cardboard toilet paper rolls. Keep a small recycling container in the bathroom if it helps you remember to recycle. 
  • Use simple, nontoxic substances, like vinegar, peroxide and baking soda, to green clean your bathroom. Click here for details. 

Follow these guidelines to reduce energy consumption, improve air quality, and reduce waste and your bathroom will be cleaner, healthier, and greener. You'll save money, while protecting your health and the environment.

Note: For bigger home renovations check out Green Home Improvements for help selecting eco-friendly countertops, flooring, and paint.



        


        

Everyday Green Home Edition: Green Up Your Bedroom

For those wanting to live a healthy and eco-friendly lifestyle it makes perfect sense to green up your bedroom, the place you spend a third of your life. Here's a guide to help you make your bedroom healthier and greener.

The Bed
Avoid mattresses filled with polyurethane foam. Polyurethane is a synthetic material made from petroleum products. That means it is produced from limited fossil fuel resources (often creating toxic waste in the process) and it is not biodegradable. Polyurethane off-gasses toxic volatile organic compounds (VOCs) which decreases indoor air quality. Plus, mattresses made with synthetic foams are treated with polybrominated diphenyl ether (PBDE) fire retardants. In 2010, after years of study, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) determined that PBDEs are bioaccumulative and toxic to both humans and the environment and began working on a voluntary phase out of the chemicals by the end of 2013.

To protect yourself from such toxins opt for a mattress filled with cotton (preferably organic cotton), wool (naturally flame retardant), or natural latex. The greenest option, latex, is anti-microbial, anti-bacterial, and dust-mite proof. Just be sure the latex is at least 97% natural. If opting for another natural filler, use a hypoallergenic mattress protector to prevent dust mites.

Bedding and Other Fabrics
It's a little known fact that bedsheets are often treated with chemicals to make them soft. And thanks to its excessive use of insecticides and pesticides, conventional cotton is considered the world's dirtiest crop. Hence, sheets made from organic cotton or bamboo are better for your health and the environment. Avoid sheets with labels like moisture-repellent, stain-resistant, or fire-repellent – clear indications they've been treated with chemicals. With more and more stores like Wal-Mart, Target, and Pottery Barn offering organic bedding, the selection and availability of eco-friendly linens is greater than ever.

When selecting pillows look for hypoallergenic and organic pillows filled with wool, organic cotton, buckwheat or millet hulls, or natural (at least 97%) latex. Pillows made from recycled polyester fill are another eco-friendly option.

For blankets, wool is a greener options than polyester. Down comforters attract dust mites and, because they draw in moisture and don't dry quickly, can produce mold. Wool is lightweight, warm and quick-drying.

Wash bedding weekly to cut down on dust mites and other allergens.

Furniture
Before purchasing any new furniture take stock of what you already own. Sometimes you just need to move pieces around to give your room a fresh new look. Also consider any other items you may have stored away that you could re-purpose or re-finish to use in your bedroom.

Then, if you really do need a new piece of furniture for your bedroom, consider purchasing vintage or used. By purchasing pre-owned you keep items out of landfills and avoid buying new pieces you'd eventually have to dispose of. Check out antique shops, thrift shops, Freecycle, Craigslist, and eBay. And remember: you can always change hardware, reupholster, paint, or stain a piece to make it your own.

If you do decide to purchase new, take careful consideration of what furniture is made of. Steer clear of pieces made from manufactured wood products (i.e., particleboard, fiberboard, plywood) because they typically contain formaldehyde glues. Products made from metal and glass are safer options because they are inert materials which don’t offgas.

When purchasing solid wood furniture look for wood that is certified by the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC), an international, non-profit organization that requires companies to meet strict economic, social, and environmental standards to become certified. Look for the FSC logo on furniture, ask your retailer, or use the FSC's online database to find certified vendors. Other healthier, more eco-friendly options include furniture made from reclaimed wood or a renewable resource like bamboo.

Look for furniture finished with no- or low- VOC paints and stains. Alternatively, purchasing unfinished furniture you can finish yourself is a great way to get quality, customizable pieces at a reduced cost.

Flooring
Carpets made of wool (a renewable and biodegradable resource) and other natural materials (such as plant fibers, jute, and seagrass) are greener options than traditional carpet which is made of synthetic materials and backed by SB latex, a petroleum product that contains the toxin styrene and is a suspected carcinogen. Also, more and more companies are introducing eco-friendly carpeting options made from recycled products like recycled plastics and organic materials like corn.

Carpet, however, can be hard to clean and can harbor dirt, dust and mold. Greener, more allergy-friendly flooring options include bamboo, cork and natural linoleum (a long lasting material made from natural ingredients such as linseed oil, wood resins, cork, limestone, and jute). Then, you can always add some natural fiber area rugs that can be thrown in the washer to clean.

Indoor Air Quality
Paint is a great, inexpensive way to give a room a whole new look, but traditional paints contain harmful contaminants that are damaging to human health and the environment. According to the EPA, paints, stains, and other architectural coatings are the second-largest source of VOC emissions after automobiles. When looking for low-VOC paints seek out products certified by a third party such as Green Seal and make sure that the VOC levels are measured after the tints are added.

Never use mothballs. Naphthalene, the substance mothballs are made of, can cause respiratory problems, damage to the liver, and neurological damage. Plus, the EPA has classified naphthalene as a possible human carcinogen. Products made from cedarwood are safe and just as effective at protecting clothes and linens from moths.

Despite how nice they may look or smell, traditional paraffin candles and the smoke and soot they produce can contain harmful toxins. The American Lung Association and the EPA have warned consumers that using paraffin candles can decrease indoor air quality. Paraffin is the last petroleum byproduct removed in the refining process (right after asphalt). The fumes released by paraffin candles are comparable to those produced by burning diesel. For a healthier, greener alternative look for candles made from soy or beeswax, scented with essential oil, with non-lead wicks.

Adding an air-cleaning plant or two to your bedroom can help improve indoor air quality. A NASA study showed philodendron, English ivy, spider plant, dracaena, weeping fig, golden pothos, peace lily, Chinese evergreen, bamboo or reed palm, and snake plant to be the most effective at removing common pollutants from the air.

Finally, try to open your windows and air out your bedroom for at least 15 minutes every day. The EPA and the National Lung Association both recommend opening windows to ventilate air and lower indoor air pollutants.