Saturday, August 28, 2010

The Where to Buy Guide Part 2: Apartment / Home Essentials

Where can I buy….

Cheap, PVC-free shower curtains?

IKEA (Richmond or Coquitlam). Although IKEA was once snubbed by the enviro-minded community, even one of my Greenpeace magazines recently gave kudos to the company for making sensible and sensitive changes to their product manufacturing (for example, IKEA will phase out incandescent lighting by next year (2011), they’ve gone “bag-less” and have offered reusable bags since 1996, they’ve partnered with Stewardship Ontario to tackle recycling of their products once they’re decommissioned, are aligned with the Rainforest Alliance and Forest Stewardship Council and on and on – read more here).

For $1.49 (that’s not a typo – LESS THAN A TOONIE) you can purchase a PEVA shower curtain from IKEA in place of a dangerous, evil PVC one. Why evil? Besides the environmental consequences of production and destruction of poly-vinyl chloride, these things make your apartment a steaming death trap every time you shower. Alright, the ‘death trap’ is a bit of an exaggeration. But they’re not healthy, that’s for certain! Containing more than 108 volatile compounds including dioxins (carcinogenic), mercury and phthalates (super nasty – Wikipedia article here), they actually are released when you shower and get into your blood stream through your lungs. And you thought car exhaust was bad! At least it’s not trapped inside your home. Ditch the plastics, and start with boycotting ALL PVC today (recycling symbol “3”). Read more on the downsides of PVC shower curtains here. In the meantime, I’m happy to use PEVA (polyethylene vinyl acetate). It’s biodegradable, but then again it is petroleum-based (as are most plastics). It’s not perfect, but it’s sure a smart move! There are also cotton and linen alternatives, but they aren’t easy to work with and quite a bit more costly.

Yet another advantage to the $1.49 Näckten shower curtain from IKEA is that it’s translucent – and that means that it will make your tiny bathroom seem larger than an opaque one would. Because it’s colourless, you don’t need to worry about it matching your décor or the avocado green (in my case ‘dusty rose’) bathroom fixtures and gold-flecked 70’s tiles. Another advantage is that it allows more light into your shower, which is generally helpful. Maybe you can then switch to a lower-wattage CFL bulb instead of using the standard overhead halogen heat lamp which is very, very energy inefficient.

Cheap (but still soft and durable) towels?

Costco (several locations). Costco is not a very green or ethical company. In fact, there are several worthy petitions going against them at the moment – one on sustainable seafood (DON’T BUY CHILEAN SEA BASS!), one on reduction of plastic wrap on produce, and then a whole ton of regional ones trying to keep the big-box chain away for the sake of their local economy. So I do feel a little guilty about posting this tip, because I don’t like what the Costcos and WalMarts of the world are doing to the little guys. Unfortunately, being a student, I do occasionally resort to buying a select few items here to make ends meet. Borrowing a friend’s account (bring cash or pay them back later – the cardholder must purchase the items, and they don’t take VISA or Mastercard, FYI), I’ve bought a two-pack of polyester-filled pillows for $17 to replace some old, dust-mite and allergen packed ones, and of course towels. I buy white towels so that I can mix and match with little issue, and I truly think that white towels just look nicer – easy to recreate the ‘spa’ atmosphere in the bathroom. My bathroom desperately needs an injection of class, so tightly folded white hand towels and rolled-up face cloths are my first choice. I can’t remember the prices of the towel packages off-hand, but they are reasonable.

I bought IKEA towels once – their cheapest options are not worth considering, unless you need a source of rags (see my upcoming list on “What to Do with Old Towels”!). Their mid- to upper-range towels are much better, and apparently the source cotton harvest in Pakistan is ethical and sustainable. Definitely give the temptingly cheap towels (i.e. the Näckten range) a miss. You’re basically paying $0.49 for a fraying rag, not a face cloth!

Cheap but cool bistro-style dinnerware?

Ming Wo  (many locations, two in Kits). This is an easy one! Ming Wo has cheap ‘seconds’ of plain white china dishes that have small flaws in the glazing, or rust-stained bottoms (where the ceramic is unfinished). I’ve loaded up here a few times and really have been happy with my purchases. Presentation is everything, and you want your home-cooked, healthy meal to have the spotlight! I wanted to buy one of my brothers some nice serving dishes and platters, but soon realised that I wouldn’t be able to afford much more than a couple of side plates. Then I remembered Ming Wo! With food on these plates, and with careful choosing, you can’t tell that there is a flaw at all. I also like that if I broke one, I wouldn’t have to cry about it.

Ming Wo is a great place to browse – they have very cheap cotton tea towels (work great but must to be hung to dry) and for change you can buy a vegetable scrubber cloth that will even ‘peel’ your carrots without taking away all those healthy surface nutrients! Ming Wo is a Vancouver company (since 1917!).

Cheap but effective clothes-drying rack?

IKEA (Richmond or Coquitlam). Speaking of “hang to dry”, save energy (and therefore the environment) by putting dry apartment air or a sunny balcony to use with this drying rack from IKEA (Jäll, $7.99). I kid you not, I looked into building one myself and found that it would be much more expensive to buy the lumber alone. And that home-built one would be a mere fraction of the cost of most of the racks available on the market! Another of those things that you desperately want from Gaiam but just cannot afford. 

The Jäll rack folds completely flat, which is what they ALL say, but this one really does and it’s so thin and tiny that you can put it just about anywhere – narrow linen cabinet, under the bed, under the dresser or vanity if you have a longish one, hanging from nails in the back wall of the closet, etc. The top is horizontal, so it also works as a “Dry Flat” area for those woven sweaters.

Not only does avoiding the dryer save you on energy (or laundry change), it’s also a great way to cheat the dry cleaner’s – sometimes it’s possible to hand-wash a “Dry Clean Only” garment and hang it to dry. My Mom has this terrific knack at determining what can and cannot be safely hand-washed just by reading the tag. I’ll have to ask her to write me an article on this – dry cleaning isn’t only expensive, it’s also really, really rotten to our ecosystems! Rule of thumb in the meantime – never agitate wool (squeeze suds through very, very gently!), and don’t try to wash something that was expensive like a wool or silk-blend suit. If it was worth investing in, take proper care of it! Rayon, speaking from experience, is something that probably needs to be dry-cleaned. It’s not an environmentally friendly fabric to begin with and tends to look cheap – try to avoid buying rayon altogether.

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