These 5 Common Household Items Are Actually Hurting You (and the Environment)

Although some circular business models have begun to pop up in recent years to responsibly recycle or repurpose undesired furniture, much of our furniture over the past few decades has more commonly ended up at the landfill or at an incineration facility to burn it for energy. In 1960, 2.2 million tons of furniture and furnishings ended up in the municipal solid waste stream, or the accumulation of everything we want to dispose of, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. By 2018, that amount had risen to 12.1 million tons every year — a 450% increase in about six decades.

Instead of adding to the pile, Rona suggests shopping secondhand and opting for vintage furniture, which could help reduce the exposure to toxins. “If you’re buying old furniture, vintage furniture, you’ve probably got the best chance of bringing something into your home that isn’t jam-packed full of toxins,” she says while noting that even older furniture can have concerning chemicals but that “they’ve been around long enough that most of that off gassing [has occurred, so] you don’t have to be so concerned about it.”

Gas kitchen appliances

According to Consumer Reports, just under 40% of American homes rely on gas cooktops to make their meals. Yet doing so exposes households to harmful air pollutants, including methane—a major contributor to the climate crisis—and benzene, which is linked to cancers. Upgrading from gas to induction cooking appliances reduces the amount of methane and benzene leaking into your home. A study released by Stanford University last year found that “gas and propane burners and ovens emitted 10 to 50 times more benzene than electric stoves,” while “induction cooktops emitted no detectable benzene whatsoever.”

“Most people assume that it’s going to be a major project to move from gas to electricity, and that’s really far from the truth,” says Dan Mock, vice president of operations of Mister Sparky, a nationwide electrician franchise. “Most homes today are equipped to be readily converted to an all-electric home.” That assumes your wiring and electrical panel are newer, and that you can afford the switch. But state and federal financial incentives are available to homeowners; if you rent, tell your landlord about the health and environmental benefits and be sure to mention the subsidies.

Outdated garage fridges

While a fridge is much more commonly found in the kitchen, it’s not at all odd to find one in the garage. But unlike the inside fridge, a garage fridge tends to be an outdated, infrequently cleaned and energy inefficient model that was relocated after a kitchen renovation, used primarily for backstock perishables and excess beer.

Shelie Miller, a professor at University of Michigan focused on sustainable systems claims that the typical garage fridge is “an energy hog,” meaning they’re not helping minimize your energy bills or power demand—meaning more electricity needs to be produced than might otherwise be needed. Instead, she recommends upgrading to a newer back-up refrigerator with better energy efficiency cred; this calculator from the US Department of Energy can help you see your potential savings in terms of both climate and financial benefits. “Do we actually need something that’s drawing power 365 days a year to refrigerate sodas or beers or whatever?” she asked rhetorically.

Large, pristine lawns

America’s suburbs are synonymous with expansive green spaces, but not necessarily the kind full of trees and natural habitat. Frequently referred to as biodiversity deserts, turf grass lawns aren’t inviting homes to native plants and animals. Additionally, that flat, green square of space often has homeowners turning to synthetic fertilizers and lawn equipment that runs on fossil fuels. Shelie suggests thinking about how you can reduce that turf. Instead, you (or a persuadable landlord) could expand planted beds, add more trees or convert the turf into a meadow.

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