Photo by mohairpink
After my recent move into an apartment, I wondered what tips other interior designers and green experts had about what renters can do to make their homes as eco-friendly as possible without ticking off their landlords. in this series, I’ll be offering up some of the best suggestions. This final post has been a while coming thanks to the flu, but today, I’ll offer up some of my own favorite tips, including how to create a beautiful, eco-friendly space on a renter’s budget.
Get Your Recycle On
Unless you’re renting a house, chances are you don’t have access to curbside recycling. The recycling program where we live is actually pretty robust, but as apartment dwellers, there’s no curb on which to leave our paper and plastic. But that doesn’t mean we’ve given up on recycling. It just means we have to be a little creative. Many communities have recycling centers or public access bins where you can drop off common recyclables like paper, #1 and #2 plastics, glass and metal. Visit websites like Earth911 to find out about recycling in your area, then do it.
Even in a space-challenged rental, it’s not difficult to find room for a recycling bin or two. We use two collapsible recycling bags (also made of recycled materials) for our paper, as well as an old unused plastic bin. They’re tucked away in a corner behind the dining table where they’re easy to access, but not in the way. It’s also pretty convenient that we can’t see them from anywhere else in the apartment. It’s not the ideal solution, but it works, and we’re not throwing away perfectly good recyclable materials.
Set Up a Compost System
I admit I’ve got some work to do in this department myself, but composting isn’t out of the question just because you rent. It may be impossible to set up an outdoor compost pile, but lots of companies these days are making bins that allow odor-free indoor composting, with or without the use of worms. And if you have a deck or other outdoor space, you still can get a small outdoor bin. Either way, you’ll be putting your food scraps to good use and turning them back into fertile soil that you can use to keep your potted herbs or houseplants happy and healthy.
Decorate with the Earth in Mind
If you’re lucky enough to be moving into your first rental, you’ll probably be shopping for several rooms worth of furniture. Given that daunting (or exciting!) task, it can be tempting to buy the cheapest items you can find. While budget can definitely be a factor for renters, when you can, I’m definitely a proponent of investing in quality, sustainably-made furniture that will last. Besides, you just spent all that time seeking out green cleaning products and rugs made of natural fibers to help improve your indoor air quality. Do you really want to turn around and ruin it with furniture made with formaldehyde and toxic glues, adhesives, sealers and paint?
Here are some tips for finding eco-friendly furniture and decor:
- Stick to solid wood instead of wood composites, which are often made with formaldehyde and toxic adhesives
- Look for furniture made of FSC-certified or reclaimed wood, which will have minimal impact on the environment. Bamboo is great too, but try to find out if it was grown without pesticides. Designer and retailer Bobby Berk recommends the Lax Collection, shown above, for apartment settings. “The LAX wall mounted headboard has storage in it, so you don’t need night stands, which we here in NYC rarely have space for,” Berk said.
- For upholstery and textiles like window treatments, stick to natural materials like organic cotton, linen, eco-silk and hemp. Bamboo and soy have some environmental benefits, but the process of turning them into fabrics is questionable, so look to those options as a last resort. If you don’t have chemical sensitivities, you can also consider fabrics made of recycled materials like nylon and polyester, or even recycled cotton.
- New, eco-friendly furniture can definitely get pricey. If budget is an issue, shop consignment stores, yard sales and estate sales for quality secondhand furniture at a fraction of the cost of buying new. Used furniture has likely done all of its offgassing, and buying used helps reduce the need for virgin materials and saves the pieces you buy from ending up in the landfill. Craigslist is a great place to start if there is a page for your city or one nearby. And if you need inspiration for turning found furniture into a masterpiece worthy of your style and taste, check out the before and after sections of sites like Design Sponge. Definitely inspirational!
Photo from DesignSponge
- Need artwork? If you can afford a few gallons of paint, use it to create a large-scale pattern or mural on the wall. Try stripes, circles, branches, leaves or other nature-inspired shapes. Paint is an inexpensive change, and all you’ll need is a few rolls of painter’s tape and some inspiration. I’m going to attempt to recreate the forest mural shown above in my daughter’s room.
- Support local artisans. Try to find locally made furniture, which is often less expensive than pieces that have been transported halfway around the world, and thus have a much smaller carbon footprint. At the very least, look for pieces that were made in the U.S. You can also support the work of local artists and craft-makers when looking for all the decorative details that will make your house (or apartment) a home.
- Shop for unfinished wood furniture, then finish it with your choice of eco-friendly, no- or low-VOC paint or stain.
- Think creatively and make it yourself. With a little brain power and some elbow grease, you can turn a wooden craft frame and some fabric into an upholstered headboard, or a few pre-cut pieces of plywood into a platform bed. Building your own furniture may seem daunting, but great tutorials are available online, and you can always enlist the help of friends and family members. Design Sponge also has a great DIY section, and two of my favorite bloggers, Sherry and John Petersik of Young House Love, are avid DIYers who love to share their experience. “I love the magazine ReadyMade,” said Kristen Banker of Modern Eco Homes. “They have amazing DIY ideas for recycling furniture and reusing what you already have (or what you’ve just picked up on the curb). One of my favorites: box seats.” The seats serve as wall art when not in use, and as side tables/sitting stools when you have company and need extra seating.
- Look for decor made of recycled and sustainable materials, like dishes made of recycled glass,
Those are just some of my favorite ideas. There are many, many ways to make your space as green as can be. Renters, what tips do you have for making your space more environmentally friendly? Please, share your tips in the comments below. Our collective wisdom will change the world! If you enjoyed this series on making your rental greener, subscribe to Green Your Decor via RSS or email newsletter to make sure you don’t miss any other great content!
Other posts in this series: