Springtime is just around the corner and for all you gardeners out there, that means it's nearly time for planting seeds and refurbishing the patio! Unfortunately, the materials often used for patio furniture such as old-growth tropical wood, chemically-treated wood, and plastic are not only contributing to over harvesting and deforestation in tropical countries, they're releasing harmful chemicals both during manufacturing and disposal.
To help your shopping trip for patio furniture go more eco-friendly this springtime, here are some tips and a bit of advice for finding environmentally sound alternatives.
ENVIRONMENTALLY CONSCIOUS PATIO FURNITURE
Old-Growth Tropical Woods: Rainforest Relief encourages retailers to stop selling any patio furniture made of teak, nyatoh, kapur, balau, jatoba, garapa, ipê, and other old-growth tropical woods altogether. Thanks to the group's efforts, Linens ‘n Things and Wal-Mart have stopped using nyatoh wood and Crate and Barrel now sells tons of Forest Stewardship Council-certified options that are also old-growth free. But just because a store sells a couple FSC-certified patio chairs doesn't mean they don't also sell endangered tropical woods; so be sure to ask a representative about the material makeup of the outdoor furniture and patio sets you're interested in purchasing.
Chemically-Treated Wood: Woods that aren't naturally weather-resistant must be sealed with petroleum-based finishes that off-gas air-polluting volatile organic compounds (VOCs). Gaiam offers a stylish Wine Barrel Chair set made from 100 percent salvaged white oak wine barrels discarded from California wineries. Gaiam also sells an Atlantic Garden Bench made from sustainably harvested, FSC-certified eucalyptus grown in managed forests. The premium-grade eucalyptus is kiln-dried to be as elegant as teak but it's even sturdier and more eco-friendly, as it's treated and sealed with a water-base stain that's laboratory tested to ensure it gives off no toxins.
Plastic Furniture: Usually made of either PVC (vinyl) or polyethylene, which is considered more benign than vinyl, these types of patio furniture tend to break suddenly or after a couple years. Recycled plastic lumber is a much better, sturdier option that's becoming more and more popular. Plastic lumber is made from recycled plastics including milk jugs and detergent bottles, and looks like wood but without the need of chemical finishes or paint. Poly-Wood, Inc. has been the leader in developing casual outdoor furniture with plastic lumber since 1990. Their lumber is made from high-density polyethylene (HDPE) derived from post-consumer bottle waste The HDPE products are made with a single, purified polymer and have exceptional resistance to corrosive substances. And because they don't absorb moisture, they won't rot, splinter, or crack. Best of all the weather resistance of HDPE products is obtained without water proofing, painting, staining, or similar exterior applications.
Recycled Aluminum: Most transportable outdoor furniture is made with aluminum, so purchasing a recycled alternative will save room in the landfills. If you do purchase recycled aluminum furniture, be sure to choose rust-free models that can withstand various weather conditions.
Willow and Wicker: Outdoor furniture made from willow branches is an eco-friendly option because the branches are fast-growing and usually hand-collected in small quantities. Additionally, the willow branches don't need any sealants, since they already have their bark. Wicker is often made using rattan, which is considered a renewable climbing palm plant. The use of wicker furniture is fine if you make sure you're getting a model that isn't coated with harsh chemical sealants. Just stay away from fake petroleum-based wicker.
Your greenest choice for patio furniture will always be to purchase secondhand. Find tons of gently used pieces for good deals at CraigsList.org.
(Photo by Poly-Wood)