There's nothing quite as satisfying as cozying up to a crackling fire after hauling in a bundle of firewood, perhaps gathered by yourself, from the cold outdoors. It's something that someone like me who lives in an apartment sans fireplace craves when the temps start to drop. It's also considered by some to be a cost- and resource-effective (although not exactly efficient) alternative to blasting the furnace on high given that wood is a renewable resource and the cost of fuel isn't exactly a bargain these days.

However, the air pollution — not to mention the sooty mess — generated by burning cordwood in a fireplace is less than satisfying. According to the EPA, residential wood smoke contains many of the same chemical compounds as cigarette smoke like nitrogen oxides, carbon monoxide, various carcinogenic VOCs, and perhaps worst of all, particulate matter — composed of tar, gases, soot, and ashes — which can take their toll on your health and on the environment. A runny nose, burning eyes, and bronchitis kind of takes the romance out of burning a fire, huh? 

If you must burn a traditional fire with cordwood, there are EPA-recommended steps you can take to make it more efficient and less harmful to you and the planet. But here's another idea: forgo wood completely and use cleaner burning fireplace logs made out a variety of substances like recycled cardboard, sawdust, and even coffee grounds. Although I fully understand that buying a box of manufactured firelogs at a supermarket or home goods store doesn't have the same rustic, DIY appeal as gathering wood for a fire, they're less likely to keep you and Mother Nature up hacking and wheezing all night. They're a good thing. Check these four fireplace log options out. 

Duraflame Crackleflame Firelog (5 lbs) @ Ace Hardware ($39.99/6 pack)
Once known for using petrochemical binders in their firelog products, Duraflame has gone au natural in the last couple of years by revamping its famous recycled sawdust-based firelogs with a "biowax" formula made from renewable plant and vegetable materials. Duraflame firelogs use 80 percent fewer resources than traditional firewood, generate 80 percent less pollutants than traditional firewood, and produce 70 percent less greenhouse gases than gas fireplaces and gas logs. The Crackleflame Firelog emits a crackling sound for added authenticity.
Pine Mountain Java-Logs @ Energy shift via Pine Mountain (single 3hr firelog, $3.50; case of 6 3hr firelogs, $29; case of 6 2hr firelogs, $22)
Pine Mountain Java-Logs are made from, you guessed it, recycled coffee grounds. The company diverts 12 million pounds of coffee grounds from landfills annually in the production of clean burning Java-Logs. Compared to standard cordwood, Java-Logs emit 78 percent less carbon monoxide and 66 percent less creosote when burned. And no, it won't smell like a Starbucks store has been set ablaze in your living room when using. 
TerraCycle Eco-Revolutionary Firelog @ ($15.99/4 pack)
From Tom Szaky's most-excellent green company, TerraCycle, comes a line of firelogs made from 100 percent recycled wax-coated cardboard boxes. They are clean burning and  long lasting — 3 hours — and can be used in indoor fireplaces, fireplace inserts, campfires, and woodstoves. 
Goodwood Firelog Bags @ Goodwood Products (case of 5 bags, $49.95; case of 8 bags, $94.95)
Made with woody biomass and mill shavings diverted from landfills, Goodwood Firelogs are free of waxes and additives and emit 25 to 50 percent less particulates compared to firewood when burned. The firelogs come in an attractive burlap starter bag made from jute that you can light on fire as well so need to unload it ... just toss it in and light. Each bag burns for up to 3 hours. 

Matt Hickman ( @mattyhick ) writes about design, architecture and the intersection between the natural world and the built environment.

Logging on
Want to keep your home cozy while creating a nice, wintery ambiance? Consider burnin' these four less polluting fireplace logs.