By Hillel Aron
By Joseph Tsidulko
By Patrick Range McDonald
By David Futch
By Hillel Aron
By Dennis Romero
By Jill Stewart
By Dennis Romero
Cut a Rug
Wanna save the Earth? Put in a carpet: Yes, you heard that right — a carpet. Almost every flooring you can think of, even bamboo, exacts a price on the Earth in land and resources, and carpet is generally toxic. But two years ago, when Shaw Carpet of Dalton, Georgia, where they make 600 million square yards of floor covering every year, announced it would no longer use polyvinyl chloride (PVC) in its fuzzy rugs, it put carpet on the green list. Shaw now makes its carpets with EcoWorx, a polyolefin-based backing that replaces harmful PVC, and “nylon 6,” a synthetic fiber that can be broken down and reused without any loss of quality. Developed according to the principles of “cradle-to-cradle” manufacturing, a materials standard developed by the famously green architect William McDonough and chemist Michael Braungart, not a single thread of either material will ever go to waste. When the kids have trampled your rug, the new puppy has peed on it, and the time has come to rip it out, Shaw will come and get it out of your house for free, and use the material to manufacture more.
Just so you know they’re serious, the people at Shaw participate with McDonough’s firm in a line of cradle-to-cradle greeting cards. Made of infinitely recyclable “technical nutrients,” the cards come with self-mailers addressed to Shaw. When they’ve been displayed long enough on the table, the recipient of the greeting can send them to Shaw, where each one becomes a little piece of carpet. Beats recycled paper any day. Carpet available at www.shaw?floors.com. Cards available at www.cradle?tocradle.net/c2cgreetingcards.html.
Of the 350 gallons of water an average household uses every year, nearly half is in the bathroom. The no-brainer solutions to bathroom water waste — low-flow toilets and high-efficiency showerheads — cost little to buy and install. If you have a regular flush toilet and have failed to at least displace some of the water with, for instance, a bleach carton (no bricks, please), well, you and I have nothing to talk about. I’m sorry. But for the rest of you, I have to ask: What good are the 1.5 gallons you save when you flush, or the 12 gallons not used with every shower, when you still gaze blankly into the mirror while you brush and floss, water pouring from the faucet at 7 gallons per minute? Of course, you can’t be trusted to shut the faucet off: You almost always brush your teeth when on one end or the other of sleep. But you can install an aerator on the faucet that will slow that flow to just under three gallons per minute: Water-saving aerators start at about $7 at any hardware store, and screw on easily to standard faucets. Presuming you spend about four minutes on your teeth, that’s a savings of 16 gallons twice a day.
On the other hand, you’re still wasting a gallon an hour in every 24-hour period. So how about if you install the aerator and at the same time learn to brush as you do when you’re camping in the desert? Remember: Water is for rinsing the brush, not for drowning out the sound of the neighbors.
Paint It Green
They saturate indoor air at concentrations two to five times higher than outdoor air; they rise from hair spray, solvents, cleaning products and paint; and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency says they can cause “eye, nose and throat irritation; headaches, loss of coordination, nausea; damage to liver, kidney and central nervous system.” They can make you vomit, wheeze, or give you cancer. And most people have no idea they exist. The culprit is a “volatile organic compound,” or VOC, any compound of carbon that evaporates quickly into the atmosphere, and most paint — even interior latex paint — is full of them; it doesn’t even start “off-gassing” until it dries, and it continues for years.
Indoor house painters still believe they have to paint high-splatter kitchens with heavy-duty oil-based formulas that easily wipe clean; “green” paint, they’ve come to believe, deteriorates when you try to clean it. And while some of the wimpier milk-based paints deserve that rep, several lines of zero-VOC or low-VOC glossy paint have emerged in the last few years that can take that flying plate of spaghetti in stride: Almost every major paint line, from Sherwin Williams to Behr, offers one. But AFM Safecoat makes minimal-VOC paints exclusively, and consequently the company has learned over the years how to make even polyurethane floor paint durable as well as nontoxic. You’ll have to put up with a little indoor air pollution if you paint with a dark color — even if the paint contains no VOCs, the dye does — but if you start with VOC-free base, you lower the emissions of your walls considerably. AFM Safecoat is available locally at Par Paint (www.parpaint.com), where knowledgeable people will advise you on how to use it and other environmentally sensitive alternatives. They call it paint for the “chemically sensitive.” And even if you don’t already know it, they’re talking about you.