From Thanksgiving Day to New Year’s Eve, it’s estimated that the amount of waste produced in the United States increases between 25 to 43%.
Furniture waste, also known as bulky waste, is one of the largest streams of waste in the U.S., and during the holiday season, it too follows the upward trend with shoppers replacing the old for something new.
What is "Furniture Waste" & Where is It Going?
In the U.S., roughly six times more furniture is being produced today than in the 1960s, and with an increase in production comes an increase in waste.
It’s estimated that New York City alone throws away 950 tons of furniture per day.
Yet despite efforts to increase access to recycling and composting, getting rid of furniture waste is no short of a challenge, and 80% of all furniture is still landfilled.
Comparably, in the 1960's Americans only threw away an estimated 2 million tons of furniture per year. Image Credit: Floyd Home
It’s no surprise then that, as waste has increased, the furniture repair and reupholstery industries have shrunk over the past five years. It’s become more convenient and attractive to buy new, fashionable items than to repair broken furnishings.
How Do I Know When Furniture is Made Sustainably?
In order to classify a piece of furniture as sustainable, we have to look at the complete life cycle of each product — from the raw material extraction to the method of disposal — asking questions at every step. This is often referred to as a Life Cycle Assessment, or LCA.
Certifications, from partners like the Forest Stewardship Council, can make this process easier, guiding brands and producers towards more sustainable practices and shoppers toward more ecologically friendly products.
Here are some certifications to know:
When buying Fair Trade Certified goods, you are supporting companies that are making responsible choices regarding environmental protection and sustainable livelihoods. This certification guarantees that farmers, workers, and fishermen have fair and safe working conditions and are supported by Community Development Funds.
The Global Organic Textile Standard certifies organic textiles such as fibers, yarns, clothes, home textiles, personal care textiles, and textiles that come into contact with foods. It guarantees that all textiles contain at least 95% organic fiber, do not contain any toxic bleaches or dyes, and are produced with ethical and sustainable labor and processes.
The Forest Stewardship Council is a non-profit organization that guarantees that paper and wood come from forests that are sustainably managed. These regulations assure that the water quality, old-growth trees, and rare trees are protected. It also guarantees that hazardous chemicals are prohibited and natural forest cover is protected.
With up to six different certifications, Oeko-Tex standards assure that all leather and textiles have been tested for harmful substances, and guarantees that materials aren’t harmful to the health of its consumers or the environment. It also monitors health protection and safety at work, and sustainable manufacturing conditions.
But please note! While these certifications are spectacular tools, they aren’t always affordable to small business owners and craftsmen that make high-quality, unique pieces we love.
This sawmill in Uaxactun is Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) certified and is a source of stable income for many. Image Credit: USAID Biodiversity & Forestry
What Are the Right Questions to Ask When Buying Sustainable Furniture?
Even when a product is not officially certified, there are ways to find out if a product is environmentally sustainable and ethically manufactured. You just need to know what questions to ask and design elements to pay attention to.
When looking at the beginning of the supply chain, you need to know whether raw materials are extracted and harvested sustainably. You could ask the designer or brand:
- Are the materials sourced locally? Are they native, renewable materials that support local businesses and farmers?
- Are the materials sourced ethically? Are the workers paid fair living wages and do they have healthy working environments?
- Are the materials extracted using benign methods that protect natural forestry and don’t leach toxins and emissions into the soil, water, or air?
- Are the products made from any secondary raw materials (recycled materials) or post-consumer waste?
- Are the materials organic, toxin-free, and safe for consumer use?
When looking at the middle of the supply chain, you need to know about the manufacturing and distribution of the product. You could ask the designer or brand:
- Are the products manufactured using carbon-neutral methods? Do you use renewable energy and energy-efficient machinery for production?
- Are the transportation and distribution carbon-neutral? Are the workshops, warehouses, and retailers centralized? Do they make use of energy-efficient couriers? Is the shipment packaging made from reusable, recyclable, or compostable materials?
- Are the manufacturing methods ethical? Are workers paid fair living wages and do they have good working environments?
When evaluating the finished product, look for retailers that offer repair and maintenance services or brands that offer take-back programs, which incentivize customers to return their products at the end-of-life for recycling and upcycling, and demonstrate a longevity by their very nature.
At ZZ Driggs we believe that furniture is an investment and should outlive us. We ensure all our works are built to last a minimum of 50 years, with much of our contemporary seating featuring lifetime warranties & guarantees.
When rental products are returned to us, we expertly repair and refurbish each item without compromising historical value before sending it to a new home. We are in the business of use and reuse, with expertise in refinishing, repurposing, and restoring – in essence a circular business model that supports people and planet.
As consumers, with every purchase we make, we are casting a vote, and once we know how to shop more sustainably, we can cast more votes towards ethical and environmentally friendly practices. In essence this act and repetition by its very nature increases its demand and helps to create, support, and standardize a more socially and environmentally responsible plan forward for all.
Tashma Kritzinger is a professional sustainability and circularity copywriter, focusing on action-oriented writing around environmentally conscious practices, sustainable product development, and waste management systems.
Have an idea or want to write an article? Reach out at firstname.lastname@example.org to get the conversation started.