Reusing old furniture can help our planet
Updated: Nov 16, 2022
Let’s invest in our planet. It’s the theme for Earth Day this year—a serious and urgent plea. Since I restyle old furniture, I can’t stop wondering how much more new and mass-produced furniture our beautiful planet-in-peril can afford.
The planet is losing an estimated 18.7 million acres of forest annually and all the biodiversity that depends on it. That's about half the size of my State of North Carolina. Every year Americans discard 12 million tons of furniture, and 9 million of these go to the landfill. These figures are likely to be outdated soon, if not already.
Years ago, I worked for the furniture industry here and abroad, where we, the designers, churned out collections of new designs every few months to satisfy the companies’ need to create endless demand. We worked on quality mass-produced furniture. It was exciting, formative and rewarding, but also very short-sided. Now, we know more about the consequences of resource exploitation. From a furniture designer creating new, I turned into a designer transforming the old, which already has history and character and requires minimal resource extraction.
As if the mass-production of furniture were not enough, we now also have “fast furniture”—the kind that is sold at low prices, typically at big box stores and online, and follows fashion trends. It’s made purposely with low quality materials to have a short life. Toss it away and get a new one.
Fast furniture is everywhere. Usually the origin is linked to the unregulated exploitation of both resources and human labor.
Unlike fast furniture, old furniture was made to last generations.
It is made of solid wood and passed on to family members who build stories that connect past to present. The best part is that old furniture can be either refreshed or easily transformed into something unique and beautiful for just about any personal style. If transformed properly, including a quality finish, it can last forever.
If you are interested in buying old furniture at a moderate price, look into auctions, estate sales; at a small fraction of the cost of new furniture, you can buy at consignment stores, thrift stores, flea markets, and online local listing such as Craigslist and Facebook Marketplace.
Shopping at local thrift and consignment stores supports a circular economy. Not only are you likely to find your perfect piece, even if it takes a few visits, but you will also save money, get quality, and be part of a community that takes a stand to better our planet. More on this at The most Eco-friendly furniture you will ever find.
Beware of new furniture advertised as “sustainable,” which it is the buzzword used by many businesses to get consumers to buy with “peace of mind”. Manufacturers and retailers display their certification from the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC), but the FSC has abundant issues of accountability and ethics. Some products are trustworthy, others are not. It’s up to the consumer to do the homework to verify those claims, but that may be a not-so-easy task.
Do I think my small actions can help the planet? The power of one can become the power of many. And the power of many can launch a movement that changes the world. We can start by changing the way we consume goods.
Thanks for reading.
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