Organic Panic Pulls Back the Curtain on Harmful Housewares

As Organic Panic’s politically- and emotionally-charged run comes to a close, there are still countless questions surrounding the organic movement, and the debate between conventional industry and green alternatives is more pressing than ever. As we wrap up five episodes of clashing ideologies and opposing perspectives, a local retailer, carrying organic options for the home squares off against Ikea, the first choice for many young homeowners looking to furnish their houses. Will health trump convenience, or are the dangers of conventional tables, beddings and cookware overblown?

To find out, Organic Panic takes a closer look at the things in our homes that we so often take for granted – our beds, couches, and even kitchens. The comforts of home are, according to some, filled with pollutants, and since we spend so much time around the house, the environment we cultivate there plays a particularly important role in our overall health. Retailers counter that claim with the assertion that they work independently to phase out potentially harmful materials from their products, even before government regulators ask them to do so. But that has only led organic retailers to question what they’ve used to replace them.

All of the conflicting information is enough to have subject Jaya Bone, a graduate student and new mother, unsure of what to believe. She says that she’s more discerning when making purchases now that she has a young daughter to care for, which means looking at labels more critically and opting for organic options more frequently than in the past. But does that practice extend to the furnishings in her house?

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Kym Klopp, Organic Storeowner

Not yet, she says, as most of the items populating her house are either second hand, or purchased new from Ikea. When it comes to items like her baby’s changing table, Jaya says that it’s easier to opt for organic products, but she and her friends aren’t sure if the distinction really makes a difference. Like many consumers, she’s hesitant to adopt a completely organic mindset, if only because she fears she may be charged more for greenwashed products.

On the other end of the spectrum, Kym Klopp, the owner of an environmentally minded home store, has taken the concept of an organic house to new heights. Using recycled, reworked and largely sustainable woods and fabrics, she says that she’s able to avoid “off-gassing” – the potentially harmful effect that chemical-ridden materials have on the air around them. She concedes that the amount of custom work and unconventional fabrics required to furnish her home were costly, but if it has a positive impact on her health, she says the payoff is worth the price.

And she says it’s not just our furnishings that can have a negative impact on our health. As we heard from experts in previous episodes, lax regulation on the part of the government means that harsh chemicals make it into our homes on an everyday basis, in the form of cleaning products. A Health Canada inspector, outlining the measures that the government takes to protect consumers, counters her criticisms, but his suggestion that industry wants to sell safe and compliant products isn’t exactly reassuring.

Brendan Seale, Ikea Canada Sustainability Manager

Brendan Seale, Ikea Canada Sustainability Manager

That seems to be the way Jaya feels as well, and when she visits Kym at her store, she’s impressed by the knowledge and effort taken to make shopping for healthier alternatives a simple process. She is less trusting when she’s introduced to Ikea Canada’s sustainability manager, Brendan Seale, and suspects that the store, like other large-scale retailers, substitutes marketing power for responsibility.

Brendan details the ways in which the company’s designs foster sustainable living, but while its products may have a smaller ecological impact, Jaya isn’t entirely sure that they’re safe for her family.

Will the personal touch at Kym’s store win Jaya over – in spite of its daunting price tags – or will the self-professed Ikea addict continue to shop for bargains rather than organics? It’s a tough decision that each of Organic Panic‘s subjects have had to grapple with, and one that will continue to have an impact on our environment, our economy, and our lives.

 

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