Microplastics and the “fast fashion” of interior design

Fast fashion is not a term limited to clothing, it is also a huge problem in the world of construction and design. These rapid conceptions contribute to massive amounts of toxin exposure in our home environment. Meanwhile, the process of plastic breakdown leaves us with tiny particles small enough to be airborne, traveling through Earth’s environment where some of them enter our lungs. We know they’re in our oceans, but did you know they’re in the water we drink, our clothes, and even the dust we see in our homes?

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Because these plastics are so ubiquitous, the harms of these small particles are far-reaching and our homes are no exception. So what can we do to minimize our exposure to these in our living environments and help protect ourselves from toxin overload?

Related: Microplastics Contaminate Human Blood, New Study Finds

Design process

When designing a home, we often consider how certain building materials will off-gas and potentially harm its future inhabitants. Some of these considerations are imposed by the city or state we live in, but the design world is beginning to play a role in finding ways to introduce safer products to mitigate these effects.

Microplastics are present in the textile fabrics we use in design, including but not limited to our upholstery on sofas and chairs, curtains, pillowcases and rugs. Small children and pets crawl and play closer to these surfaces than adults, putting them at greater risk of harm with their smaller developing systems.

Recycling process

We often think that the recycling process is removed from our daily lives and sometimes limited to the separate trash can of our cupboard. But recycling and recycled products can play an important role in the construction and design process.

When we introduce vintage or recycled furniture into the design execution, it is more design conscious. We can also choose backstage products like recycled jeans as insulation.

The recycling process is expensive. These costs are passed on to the final product in which they are used, which starts to accumulate in our design budget. While paper can be recycled up to seven times, plastics are limited to two or three cycles, making a safer paper product more expensive.

White living room with central TV console

Super indestructible fabrics

“I need the sofa fabric to be resistant to our children and our pets and not stain!” I have heard this phrase hundreds of times in my career, and for many years obeyed without knowing the hidden dangers of fulfilling this request.

Fabrics that have greater stain and wear resistance are often made with plastic polymers and then sprayed with a plastic coating to ensure longevity. We use a term called double rub which indicates the durability of the fabric; this means that the higher the number, the better it will react to bouncing children, dog naps and wine stains.

But the higher this number, the more toxic the gassing of the fabric. Looking for untreated fabrics can mean compromising the longevity of your upholstery, but ultimately increasing yours.

There are millions of textiles to choose from when you disregard their toxicity, but the selections become very limited when you add the untreated filter to your search. We have great textile companies dedicated to a more sustainable product, and we must support them at all costs.

End user training

One question I ask my clients is, “How serious are you about reducing plastic use in your home?” Their response helps us determine a budget that will reflect their dedication to healthier home design and sets the stage for lifestyle considerations.

These considerations can mean having fewer things but a better quality of life.

A white brick kitchen with wooden counters

Box store vs artisans

Using a craftsman, such as a carpenter, to build a table with locally grown wood not only supports the local workshop movement, but also reduces the risk of introducing a toxic product – not to mention the quality of the room as a whole.

You can discuss low VOC finishing options, such as wood oil for a seal instead of polyurethane. These lovingly crafted pieces can be passed down and are sure to add interest to your dinner conversation.

Stop it before it starts

When we think about the lifespan of all the textiles we put in a home, we have to consider their effects when they eventually reach a landfill. That couch with a stain guard will now seep into our groundwater and contribute to the deadly cycle of toxins in our bodies.

Additionally, there is a demand that has been fueled by our conscientious clientele to clean up the practice of design. With this, many trades in the home building world are now adding healthy home design to their business cards.

The invitation goes out to change the focus on how we define luxury in our homes. It is time for the practice of interior design to look closely at the impact we have on the lives of those we serve as well as our planet. There will be costs associated with our decisions, and we have to decide what we want those costs to be.

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