Furniture: we all come in contact with it every single day. Whether at our home, out in the park, on the sidewalks, or your place of work, chances are you probably saw a table, bench, desk, chair, and other furnishings throughout your day. But have you ever thought about where all of these items go once we are ‘done’ with them?
Well, let’s start off by saying it is the classic tale of the fast fashion industry: mass-produced items that are cheaply made and built to break, but this time it’s about furniture.
Why Fast Furniture is a Problem
Although furniture gives off the perception that it is made to last, most furniture today is made with cheap material, like particleboard, that isn’t durable and is incredibly toxic with chemical resin and plastic coating.
For instance, let’s look at a standard office cubicle. Alone that cubical represents anywhere from 300 to 700 pounds of waste, with the majority of it being complex products - meaning it is non-recyclable - due to the fact it is made up of different materials like metal, wood, particleboard, and plastic.
So if that is just one cubicle, what about all the furniture we have in our homes? How can we support a more sustainable system for furniture?
First things first, we can educate ourselves about the negative effects the fast furniture industry has on the environment. This way, we feel empowered to make more mindful purchasing decisions.
10 Wasteful Facts About the Fast Furniture Industry
1. 80% of furniture gets sent to the landfill every year.
If you want to talk numbers, that’s 9.7 million tons of furniture making its way to the dump every year.
2. Furniture is the least recyclable household item out there.
This shouldn’t come as a surprise considering most of our furniture is made up of multiple different materials. This creates a ‘complex’ product, making it incredibly hard to recycle.
3. 12.1 million tons of furniture are created every year
This number is nearly double the amount we were producing in the ’90s, which was 6.8 million tons.
4. In 2020 consumers spent $115.2 billion on furniture and beddings.
That’s a whole lot of money, $92.4 billion to be exact, heading straight to the landfill since, as we know, 80% of furniture ends up there.
5. 17 billion pounds of office furniture and equipment head to the landfill every year.
Oh, you thought it was just household furniture that creates F-waste? Don’t forget about all those office buildings filled with desks, chairs, tables and other furnishings.
With office buildings closing all across the country due to the pandemic, this number is projected to increase substantially.
6. Fast-furniture giant, IKEA, consumes 1% of all of the world’s commercially harvested wood.
Destroyed old-growth forest with piles of timber on land leased by IKEA/Swedwood in Russian Karelia. Photo © Robert Svensson, Protect the Forest 2011. Retrieved from MongaBay.
This number may seem ‘small’ but let’s put things into perspective… IKEA dishes out 600 tons of particleboard EVERY DAY for ONE of their most popular bookcases.
That’s 219,000 tons of particleboard produced for only one bookshelf - out of the thousands of fast furniture options.
So yeah… that is a lot of trees getting chopped down (often illegally) to make cheap furniture destined for the landfill.
7. 85% of items donated to charities and thrift stores end up in the landfill.
Let’s not kid ourselves here. Donating is not the answer. If you go into a purchase thinking, ‘well if I don’t like it or don’t need it anymore, I can just donate it,’ that doesn't solve the problem.
Donating doesn't erase the impact of the wasteful purchases. Buy with intention.
8. Furniture is the second largest contributor of urban waste
How many times have you seen furniture and furnishing out on the streets saying ‘free,’ or just left there for someone else to dispose of?
When relocating, it is much more convenient to dispose of your items in the trash or on the street. It’s also cheaper than renting a moving truck to bring your furniture with you, considering it doesn’t hold much ‘value,’ anyways.
Oh and let’s not forget that the increase of home renovations comes with the increase of new fast furniture to decorate the houses with. This means more furniture will once again be discarded as waste.
9. Particleboard is not a ‘green’ material
Particleboard is one of the top materials found in fast furniture and no, it’s not ‘eco-friendly'.
Although particleboard has been marketed as a ‘green’ material since it is commonly made with leftover wood scraps, the process to make it into furniture is severely detrimental to the environment and requires massive amounts of resources to be built.
To make the wood scraps into usable material, they must be chopped up into smaller pieces, dried, then mixed with chemical adhesive to bring the scraps altogether. Once that has been accomplished, it is then heated and pressed to make usable ‘wood’ boards. Lastly, it is finished with a chemical resin and a plastic coating.
This material is so poorly made that when it is presented with damp climates, it warps, instantly damaging the product, causing people to buy more.
10. Fast furniture is bad for our health
If most of our furniture is cheaply made with toxins, we probably don’t want to be breathing that in daily.
Chemical flame retardants are well-known toxins that have been commonly linked to birth defects and cancer.
Add in the synthetic fibers, which have also been linked to respiratory, reproductive, and cardiovascular health problems, and you got yourself a heavily saturated environment full of toxins.
Pretty insane right? This goes to show how little thought we put towards purchasing our furniture, in terms of the overall lifecycle of the product. If we put more thought into how we will dispose of every item we purchased, our consumption would decrease.
Fast furniture, like fast fashion, is cheap and trendy, but it undoubtedly has a negative effect on the environment and is not worth it in the long run. It may seem like a reasonable purchase at the time considering the low price-point, but remember this, in a few short years you’ll be making your way back to the store to buy new furniture again.
Interested in making more sustainable choices when it comes to furniture? Vermont Woods Studios provides handcrafted, custom wood furniture that is made with intention and built to last for generations to come. We source 100% of the wood to make our products in America through sustainable forest practices.