You've probably heard of fast fashion, and you
definitely know about fast food1 but have you ever thought of fast furniture?
The impact of fast furniture on our environment is a matter of debate. Here's
what fast furniture is, why it's such a waste, and how you can change your
furniture-buying habits to help the planet.
What Is Fast Furniture? It is no secret that our current consumer behavior (more, faster, cheaper) is not sustainable. In recent years, farmhouse restaurants and trendy thrift stores have made shopping really interesting.2 Why has this trend not been transferred to furniture?
When you move into a new apartment or house, one
of the most exciting things you can do is have a blank canvas that you can use to decorate your
home. Many of us turn to the one-click wonders of large retail stores to fill our spaces with
seemingly cheaper and easier options.
But aside from the headache of overwhelming options, unreliable deliveries, and tedious assembly, the reality of mass-produced furniture has an insidious side effect. What we save out of our own pocket is at the expense of the environment. Here's what you need to know and can do to make informed decisions for your home.
"Garbage in, garbage out"
Furniture is one of the fastest growing landfill categories. Two years ago, the EPA found that furniture in the United States accounted for more than 12 million tons (nearly 5 percent)3 of municipal waste. Waste, as it is not so affectionately known, makes up the second-largest proportion of municipal waste.4
You have probably seen it yourself when you have walked the streets of the city. Have you ever had to dodge an abandoned sofa or a dismantled bed frame? Sometimes the furniture doesn't even make it to the landfill. Instead, it ends up on the sidewalk like trash.
Recycling is great in theory, but the mix of materials and chemicals that comprise each item of furniture makes it nearly impossible to process in a recycling facility. For example, particle board—a material commonly found in cheaper furniture—is not recyclable or biodegradable
because of its chemical resin and plastic laminate. Ultimately, 80 percent of waste goes straight to the dump, making furniture the least recycled household item.
3 https://www.epa.gov/facts-and-figures-about-materials-waste-and-recycling/durable-goods-product-sp ecific-data#FurnitureandFurnishings
“Missing the forest for the trees”
One percent of all the commercially harvested wood in the world is used by IKEA. This number may sound small, but that's a lot of trees.
To put it in perspective: 600 tons5 of chipboard is eaten every day to create the world's most popular bookshelf. Particleboard is sometimes considered a green material, as it is often (but not always) made from pieces of wood. In fact, however, production requires more energy as scrap must be shredded, dried, mixed with a chemical glue, heated, and re-pressed to obtain usable sheets.
Synthetic fibers6 used in furniture are made from fossil fuels, which are also energy intensive to extract and manufacture. Consider the water and energy it takes to run furniture factories and move products around the world, and the carbon footprint of this cheap coffee table is skyrocketing.
The materials and chemicals used in Fast Furniture not only pollute the environment, but also our bodies. Particleboard often contains formaldehyde7, a carcinogen that can cause health problems if released into the air. Other chemicals that threaten the quality of our air
and water include certain dyes, scotchgard, leather tanning chemicals, flame retardants, polyurethane foam, adhesives, and varnishes. We spend 90 percent of our time indoors; The last thing we want is a toxin-saturated home.8
"I see it, I like it, I want it, I have it."
Did Ariana Grande make an in-depth comment on our contemporary culture of rampant consumerism? Or was she just doing what she does best: putting out another pop hit that you can't get out of your head, no matter how hard you try?
In any case, the pop star sings the truth about today's world of "fast" consumption. With the rise of global e-commerce, we have an unprecedented world of things at our fingertips, and the pace of production, shipping, and freight launches do not appear to be slowing down.
We are browsing through quick furniture options like it’s Tinder for home decor. But we challenge it: How do we stop the cycle and become conscious furniture buyers?
6 https://www.forbes.com/sites/amandalauren/2019/07/25/eco-friedly-or-wallet-friendly-finding-a-balanc e-between-fast-and-sustainable-furniture/#3e0959c3495d
Find the Alternative
“What goes around, comes around”
1. Buy Less, Waste Less
An easy decision is to buy less, but buy for quality and durability. This can reduce your overall waste footprint and, as we know, any sofa or chair that bypasses the landfill cycle. When you are considering where to invest and how to ensure quality, you can rely on certifications to find sustainably produced furniture.9
If you want to deliver your furniture, contact non-profit organizations or thrift stores. Take care of your household items, so their value extends beyond your hands. In the Bay Area, partners like Habitat for Humanity ReStore10 and SF Furniture Bank11 offer outlets for discounts on used household items. One less item that goes to the landfill is one less item that needs to be produced and retailed.
Think of it as the new circular economy for furniture. For all those who do not want to commit to timeless furniture, but also do not want to leave the heavy pressure of carbon furniture behind, furniture subscriptions such as Oliver Space12, Fernish13, Feather14 and more offer the alternative to the conventional waste model.
4. Shop Vintage
Give even more airtime to timeless pieces. In the Bay Area, find gems at local furniture stores such as Past Perfect15, Harrington Galleries16, and Carousel17. Each worn piece can add personality and style to your interior, while saving you an unnecessary trip to the fast furniture store. Some would say vintage is 'fashionable', we say vintage is ethical and sustainable.
We all want to be smart in style and money when we furnish a new space to call ourselves home, but being environmentally conscious is more important than ever. Your sofa will rest much more comfortably, knowing it's a greener choice for the planet.
12 https://www.oliver.space/?utm_source=partner&utm_medium=blog&utm_campaign=brightly1 13 http://www.fernish.com/