Choosing sustainable options when shopping for clothes and shoes can be a complex and difficult process because of a range of factors. We provide a guide to help you.

DIY products

Household maintenance, repairs and renovations are important ways to ensure houses last longer and are safer, more comfortable and more efficient. If you can do it yourself it’s even better, because you will save money and be more self-sufficient.

The area of DIY products is enormous and a page on a website can not do it justice. However there are a few tips below and some information about human and environmental hazards

  1. Avoid toxic, or otherwise harmful, goods
  2. Use natural products wherever possible
  3. Ask around and get advice about the best environmental options in your area

Paints

Most finishes and adhesives contain volatile organic compounds (VOCs) which outgas and adversely affect indoor air quality.

Natural plant/mineral-based finishes and adhesives are available from a number of sources, though they’re still hard to find in many big-box stores. They cost 1 to 1 1/2 times more than standard products.

VOCs (volatile organic compounds) are the fumes that you smell while you paint, and sometimes several days after. A VOC is an organic chemical that becomes a breathable gas at room temperature. Some examples are benzene, ethylene glycol and vinyl chloride.

VOCs in paint usually come from additives to the paint, such as fungicides, biocides, colour, and spreadability agents. High levels of VOCs in paints can cause headaches, allergic reactions, and health problems in the very old, very young and in those with chronic illnesses.

Concerns about air pollution and hazardous waste have greatly reduced the use of oil-based paints which can release high amounts of VOCs and contain toxic solvents. Alkyd-based paints and acrylic paints are much safer, but some still have high levels of VOCs. For this reason, when you are buying paint, work with a knowledgeable paint representative at your local paint or hardware store. Seek out someone that can answer questions about environmental concerns as well as offer application advice.

Proper disposal of paint protects you, garbage collection workers, and the environment.

If you’ve used acrylic paint, wash brushes and rollers in the sink with soap and warm water. Don’t rinse your brushes on the grass or in the gutter-it could end up in a nearby creek where it could harm fish and wildlife. Take the lids off of any empty acrylic paint cans and let them dry, then throw these into the trash with the lids off. Any unused portions can be taken to your local hazardous waste collection centre.

If you’ve used oil-based paint, take unused portions to the Hazardous Waste facility. Solvents used to clean equipment should also be taken to the Hazardous Waste collection facility for disposal. Do not rinse brushes or equipment on the ground or in the gutter.

Other hazards

PVC

PVC is a toxic carcinogen, and a source of hormone-disrupting chemicals. It is used in a vast range of products, including wallpapers, shower curtains, water pipes and packaging.

MDF

Medium Density Fibreboard – is a bland, versatile, easy-to-use indoor DIY material. It’s also a major health hazard. It contains urea formaldehyde, and the fibrous dust produced when cutting and sanding MDF is very dangerous, causing irritation to eyes and lungs. Proper ventilation, facemasks and goggles are essential when working with it. Formaldehyde can be released throughout the life of this product – it’s toxic through and through. DO NOT BURN!

Fibreglass

Fibreglass and fibreglass-type products: the resin is toxic, the dust is a vicious irritant. And yet it’s a fantastically versatile material, with uses from whole boats to car body filler. Is there an alternative, more benign product for the job you want to do?

Timber

Timber is often tanalised – impregnated under pressure with highly toxic substances such as arsenic – to protect against rot. Look for a pale green stain soaked into the outer layer, typically on roughly sawn softwood which otherwise wouldn’t last any time at all outside in the wet. We advise against buying such products: at the very least, DON’T BURN THEM! Burning tanalised wood releases arsenic, a cumulative poison, into your immediate atmosphere.

Conventional wood preservatives are highly toxic, especially to aquatic life. Boron is an alternative for protecting timber against rot and insect attack: because it is water-soluble it can be formulated to penetrate wood without using toxic solvents.

Many timber treatments are toxic to human beings and pets – and loft-dwelling bats – as well as to their intended targets. Dry rot, wet rot and woodworm need a suitably damp habitat to survive and thrive, the Pesticide Action Network explains; ‘Solve your damp problem and you have gone a long way to solving your pest problem.’

Solvents and strippers

Paintstrippers, coatings removers, brush cleaners etc. usually contain vicious solvents: product labels warn of ‘irreversible effects’. There are safe, water-based alternatives. The products were developed in response to the high turnover of employees and frequent complaints of headaches in a professional coatings removal business.