What Is Better—Recycled or Natural?

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Is it better to choose materials made of recycled content or raw, natural materials when selecting products for your home?

What came first, the chicken or the egg? A lot of designers and experts will agree that in most projects, there is a need for both types of materials. Natural hardwoods from the Forest Stewardship Council on the first floor, recycled content fiber carpet on the second; recycled content, high performance fabric sofas with organic down cushions; and so on. There is no blanket, one-size-fits-all when it comes to building products and design products for your home.

The smartest way to go about selecting materials is to consider each item on a case by case basis. Consider the longevity of the product, both how long you need it to last and also how long it is designed to last. Sometimes, you will find the equation isn’t balanced. For instance, say you are renovating a laundry room with the expectation it will serve your family for the next 5 years before you sell. But that recycled, poured concrete floor you want to install is really designed to last a lifetime. Ask yourself if potential buyers will love the look as much as you or whether the floor to choose in this case might be better if it’s a safer design and a more universal material like recycled content tile.

Beyond considering materials on a case-by-case basis, look at what goes into to creating the materials and what goes into removing those materials and transforming them back into recycled/reusable content. This method of thinking is known as Life Cycle Analysis (LCA) and can be applied to almost any material. More and more companies are offering LCAs as the trend grows for corporations to become more and more transparent. Lastly, know that whatever you choose, it will ultimately impact the Indoor Air Quality (IAQ) of your home. In general, IAQ is one of the most important factors in creating a healthy, livable, sustainable home.

Always look for products that meet the California Proposition 65 requirements. Proposition 65 requires businesses to notify Californians about significant amounts of chemicals in the products they purchase, in their homes or workplaces, or that are released into the environment.

The list contains a wide range of naturally occurring and synthetic chemicals that are known to cause cancer or birth defects or other reproductive harm. These chemicals include additives or ingredients in pesticides, common household products, food, drugs, dyes, or solvents. Listed chemicals may also be used in manufacturing and construction, or they may be byproducts of chemical processes, such as motor vehicle exhaust.

In other words, make sure your products don’t come with the warning “This product may contain chemicals known to the State of California to cause cancer, birth defects and other reproductive harm.”

—By Kate Gray Fudim

Editor’s Note: Kate Gray Fudim is an interior designer with Beth Haley Design. Kate has a master’s degree in Interior Architecture and Design with an emphasis in sustainable design. Beth Haley Design, an urban interior design firm, focuses on remodeling and revitalizing established homes, as well as creating stimulating, functional, sustainable spaces in new homes.. E-mail your questions to her at ngregg@ngregg.com or visit www.bethhaleydesign.com.

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