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Be green and mean
Plan to use, where possible, recycled and salvaged building materials. See www.salvo.co.uk, www.wantsandoffers.com, www.freecycle.org or do some skip hunting.
Avoid materials that ‘off-gas’
Standard building and renovation materials such as MDF, carpeting, adhesives, paints and particleboard release volatile organic compounds (VOCs). Your freshly painted ‘new home smell’ is the mark of off-gassing chemicals; and now homes are less drafty these chemical nasties hang around even longer. MDF deserves a special mention as the devil’s own work, containing urea formaldehyde that continually ‘off-gasses’, together with highly hazardous fibrous dust.
Recycled plastic lumber may sound horrible but it has come a long way since taking pride of place in Ye Olde English Pub as oh-so-real ‘oak beams’. It can make an attractive low maintenance alternative to cutting down more precious trees.
Only use sourced wood supplies. The Forestry Stewardship Council has a database of companies selling wood from well-managed forests. See www.fsc-uk.org
Buy salvaged and reclaimed wood. See www.demolitions.co.uk
Install water-efficient toilets and showers, such as ‘low flow’ units, to reduce water usage. With hosepipe bans and rising water costs, rainwater collection systems should be all the rage – fit yours now. See www.rainharvesting.co.uk
Forget about carpets and vinyl floor tiles. Invest in cork, bamboo and recycled glass floors to make a big difference to your footprint (metaphorically speaking). Don’t think Cathy Come Home but trendy eco alternative when you next see real linoleum. Durable, easy to recycle and low maintenance, it now comes in some great designs. See www.forboflooring.co.uk
Most standard paints contain volatile organic compounds (VOCs) that off-gas at room temperature. There are up to 300 carcinogens and 150 mutagens in a can. Non-toxic paints allow the material underneath, such as plaster and wood, to breathe and absorb moisture, as does unsealed timber.
When buying from your local store, check the paint’s VOC rating on the tin to ensure it has no, minimal or low VOC content. But beware: VOC-free may not mean free from formaldehyde, acetone or ammonia.
Insulation is the key to any ecologically-sound home, especially in the UK. Heat loss through walls and roofs can account for as much as 80 per cent of heating costs. However, it can take more energy to manufacture insulation than you will ever save.
Standard polystyrene insulation contains chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs/HCFCs) that are destructive to the ozone layer, while mineral and glass fibre insulation may be carcinogenic. Instead, invest in composite insulation made from recycled newspapers or wool. Wool, especially, has many benefits. As well as reducing condensation, it’s sound absorbent, insect resistant and absorbs toxins such as nitrogen oxide. See www.secondnatureuk.com
Try Termex for carbon-neutral insulation for your walls. It is made from waste newsprint and uses only one tenth of the energy used to make polyurethene and polystyrene-based insulation materials.
Warmcel DIY roof insulation made from newsprint is cheap and easy to fit. I can only think of one better way to use the Sun and Daily Mail while closing the recycling loop.
Avoid PVC window frames.
PVC is high in toxins and dioxins, such as lead, cadmium and phthalates (linked to DNA damage). Find recycled wood window frames or Forest Stewardship approved durable hardwood such as sweet chestnut.
Choose ‘Low e’ (low emission) glass for windows. It has an invisible coating to reflect heat back into the room. Placing a shelf above radiators or backing with kitchen foil has a similar effect.
Plant trees towards the west and south of your home to keep the temperature down in summer and shrubs on the north side to combat the cold winter wind.
Don’t use particleboard (aka chipboard)
Particleboard, used in cheap furniture, fittings and even flooring, uses a formaldehyde binding. In the US, the Environmental Protection Agency has classified formaldehyde as a ‘probable human carcinogen’, meaning it can cause cancer in animals and possibly humans too. Formaldehyde chipboard and MDF are now available but only for large volume orders. Try wheatboard or sunflower board instead.
Corbyn just won a prize for peace activism - so why is the Labour Party still committed to renewing trident? Lily Sheehan investigates.
Connor Devine writes that whilst Brexit might be a car crash, we can't just side with an institution responsible for enforcing austerity.
Michael Coates reviews a new film revealing the shocking state of housing inequality in the UK.
The vicious media campaign against trans people is part bigotry, part strategy, writes Roz Kaveney
Jon Trickett MP reports on 'Dickensian' levels of poverty and hardship felt across the UK.
Natasha King busts some myths around the No Borders debate
He was once a radical icon, but now he's a mouthpiece for racism and nationalism. Time to get off stage, writes Michael Calderbank
Consensus seems to have shifted, but austerity is far from over. The chancellor has committed us to yet more years of misery while the rich get richer, writes Richard Seymour.
Frustrated at the idea of another royal wedding? You're not alone. Joana Ramiro argues we should stop idealising a fundamentally undemocratic institution.
Liberal elites are using Russian interference to minimise their own political failures, writes Matt Turner
Meet the frontline activists facing down the global mining industry
Activists are defending land, life and water from the global mining industry. Tatiana Garavito, Sebastian Ordoñez and Hannibal Rhoades investigate.
Transition or succession? Zimbabwe’s future looks uncertain
The fall of Mugabe doesn't necessarily spell freedom for the people of Zimbabwe, writes Farai Maguwu
Don’t let Corbyn’s opponents sneak onto the Labour NEC
Labour’s powerful governing body is being targeted by forces that still want to strangle Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership, writes Alex Nunns
Labour Party laws are being used to quash dissent
Richard Kuper writes that Labour's authorities are more concerned with suppressing pro-Palestine activism than with actually tackling antisemitism
Catalan independence is not just ‘nationalism’ – it’s a rebellion against nationalism
Ignasi Bernat and David Whyte argue that Catalonia's independence movement is driven by solidarity – and resistance to far-right Spanish nationalists
Tabloids do not represent the working class
The tabloid press claims to be an authentic voice of the working class - but it's run by and for the elites, writes Matt Thompson
As London City Airport turns 30, let’s imagine a world without it
London City Airport has faced resistance for its entire lifetime, writes Ali Tamlit – and some day soon we will win
The first world war sowed the seeds of the Russian revolution
An excerpt from 'October', China Mieville's book revisiting the story of the Russian Revolution
Academies run ‘on the basis of fear’
Wakefield City Academies Trust (WCAT) was described in a damning report as an organisation run 'on the basis of fear'. Jon Trickett MP examines an education system in crisis.
‘There is no turning back to a time when there wasn’t migration to Britain’
David Renton reviews the Migration Museum's latest exhibition
#MeToo is necessary – but I’m sick of having to prove my humanity
Women are expected to reveal personal trauma to be taken seriously, writes Eleanor Penny