I finally ordered a sectional sofa free of flame retardants, polyurethane foam, soybean foam, heavy metals, VOCs (volatile organic compounds), heavy metals, formaldehyde, etc., etc., etc. and everything else most furniture we see on the market has. All told, it took me about a year to find this furniture and get comfortable with my decision. While I was looking for the furniture, I made a mistake that cost me hard earned dollars. In this post, I want to tell you about common pitfalls that a consumer may encounter while looking for truly non-toxic upholstered furniture.
Pitfall #1: Avoid soybean foam because it is not foam made from soybeans.
Marketing is such a powerful thing that even sophisticated consumers can succumb to it. Here is what happened to me.
When I was shopping for our sofa, I did a lot of research in the Internet. I recall one time I found some information on a company’s website that said the soybean used in the furniture is 100% soybean, or I thought it did anyway. I asked some questions of the manufacturer, and, satisfied, ended up purchasing the product – a chair made with soybean foam. After the chair was delivered, I went back to the company’s website, where I now clearly see that it is made with polyurethane foam. I’m not sure how I made the mistake, but I did. And if I can be fooled, anyone can be.
Every week or so I get emails and comments from the readers of my blog, who find furniture or mattresses made of a soybean foam that is “significantly decreasing the dependence on fossil fuels like petroleum and ultimately lessening greenhouse gas emissions.” When you read this, you might assume that the mere fact of purchasing soybean foam decreases our reliance on fossil fuels and lessens the environmental pollution. There are other claims that come with soybean foam, such as “healthy for you.” So let’s look at what soybean foam truly is.
The truth is that so called soybean foam is made of 20% soybean foam and 80% polyurethane foam. That statement alone should give us a clue that soybean foam is mostly polyurethane foam with a little bit of soybean.
It gets even more interesting. Remember in the previous post I talked about the dangers of polyurethane foam. Polyurethane foam is made of 50% polyol, a type of alcohol that causes death if ingested, and 50% diisocyanate, a petroleum derivative.
So all this buzz about health benefits, decrease of reliance on fossil fuel, reduction of environmental pollution, low gas emissions, low VOCs, etc. is mostly marketing hype, to be precise more than 90% of it is marketing. Funny? To be called soybean foam, it does not need to be 100% soybean or even mostly soybean. Basically, I was “greenwashed.” (read my post about greenwashing here)
Where did I hear to be called something it does not need to be that something? Hah? Oh, I remember. The fact that Organic Color Systems is called organic is not meant to imply that it is 100% organic. Read the comments to my Organic Color Systems post here. They are hilarious. I laugh every time I think about them.
Pitfall #2: Soy is not a good material for foam. Why?
Some can say 10% of soy is still better than 0%. Is it? As you probably know most soy grown in the US is genetically modified. As a result of introduction of genetically modified crops, pesticide use increased 400 million pounds from 1996 to 2012. Widespread use of pesticides causes a real threat to the integrity of the ecological system. For instance, America’s honeybee populations have dropped 30% per year since 2006.
Pitfall #3: CertiPUR-US® Certification
Let’s talk about CertiPUR-US® certification. This is a certification a lot of polyurethane/soybean foam product manufacturers seek. By the way, if you see the soybean foam is CertiPUR-US® certified, that means that the soybean foam is indeed polyurethane foam. It is even crazy to type that.
The CertiPUR-US® claims may seem to be impressive such as no ozone depleters, no PBDE flame retardants, no mercury, no lead and other heavy metals, no formaldehyde, no phthalates regulated by the Consumer Product Safety Commission, and low VOC (Volatile Organic Compound) emissions for indoor air quality (less than 0.5 parts per million). (By the way, there are different ways to measure VOCs, the longer distance from the foam, the lower VOCs are. I am just saying.)
There are two points I want to make here. The listed substances are the things that supposedly the foam does not have. What I want to know is what the foam does have. And I think the very factor that the CertiPUR-US® association was established by the industry is not conducive to trust. I have a feeling the Alliance for Flexible Polyurethane Foam, an organization that administers the CertiPUR-US® certification program, spent a considerable amount of time to craft their message to impress because the mission of the Alliance for Flexible Polyurethane Foam is to educate consumers about the benefits of polyurethane foam. Is there a conflict of interest somewhere here? Just wondering.
Pitfall #4: GreenGuard Certification
While GreenGuard certification is not an industry certification and is indeed independent, it tests only for VOCs, gasses that furniture emits into the indoor air. There is no testing for heavy metals, pesticides, BPA, flame retardants or other dangerous substances.
Pitfall #5: Foam Free of Flame Retardants
I often get emails from manufacturers of upholstered furniture about the fact they are fully compliant with the updated California flammability regulation (CA TB 117-2013) and that their furniture is now non-toxic. Wait a minute here! CA TB 117-2013 compliance simply means that the polyurethane or soybean foam is not treated with flame retardant chemicals any more. A lot of manufacturers used the fact that not everybody is super clear about the details of the change to the California flammability regulation (CA TB 117) and announced the simple compliance with the updated regulation as a conversion to non-toxic furniture. The problems such as polyurethane foam, soybean foam, heavy metals, VOCs (volatile organic compounds), heavy metals, formaldehyde, etc., etc., etc. remain.
In conclusion, marketing is a powerful tool and knowledge is power. I hope that knowing these common pitfalls will help you make the right decisions. Let others know. I will talk about shampoos in the next post and will publish a post on the furniture I recently ordered (that is definitely soybean foam-free!) when it arrives. If you are interested in knowing about my furniture sooner, let me know.