The conversation about sustainably often revolves around what we drive, what we eat and where we buy our clothes from, but how we furnish our homes has a big impact on the Earth too. Furniture manufacturers are the third largest consumer of wood, after the paper and construction industries. The U.S. EPA (Environmental Protection Agency) estimated that Americans disposed of around 12 million tonnes of furniture in 2018, most of which ended up in landfills.
But is the problem really that bad in New Zealand? We don’t have easy access to IKEA, Wayfair and other fast furniture manufacturers, do we? Well, 300,000 mattresses and bed bases are sent to landfills every year, and modular furniture, the kind often made from cheap MDF and bolted together in your living room, is becoming more and more common. And it’s this new furniture that’s finding its way into dumps and landfills across New Zealand.
The obvious reason for sustainably furnishing your home is that it keeps materials from degrading in landfills. There are other benefits too. Investing in furniture that’s made from higher quality materials may:
Save you money in the long run. A lot of modular furniture isn’t cheap and needs to be replaced after 10 years (if it even lasts that long).
Be repurposed or reused. Cheap furniture is often hard to repurpose as it’s not made from ‘real’ wood. Older or higher-quality furniture can be sanded, painted or restrained for a second lease on life.
Offer more comfort. Cheap furniture often feels cheap to sit on and isn’t ergonomically designed. While you might not notice a huge difference at first, many people end up replacing fast furniture after a year or two with something more comfortable. You can skip the middleman by investing in quality furniture upfront.
Reusing or repurposing the furniture that’s already in your home is one of the most sustainable choices you can make. Not buying anything at all keeps money in your pocket and produces zero carbon. There are lots of ways to reuse and repurpose your old furniture:
Desks: Desks and tables can be used interchangeably. Think about the size of the piece rather than its intended use. You could use a wooden desk in the kitchen for more bench space rather than buying a dining room table. Wooden drawers make great storage pieces or sideboards.
Stools and coffee tables: Small coffee tables, table sets and stools can be used for all sorts of purposes; bedside tables, plant holders, and seats.
Chairs and sofas: It’s hard to repurpose couches and chairs, but before you buy a new couch, consider whether or not you can have it reupholstered. If your couch or armchair is comfortable and the right size for your space, you can customise it with fabric at a fraction of the cost.
Wooden furniture: Furniture made of wood is a great investment as it can be sanded, painted or stained repeatedly. Try upcycling your old pieces with a fresh coat of paint or stripping a wooden piece of furniture and staining it.
‘Investing’ in your furniture doesn’t have to require a big financial commitment. Second-hand, vintage or antique furniture is often made from sturdier materials than most fast furniture produced today. Plus, it’s often a lot cheaper.
Thrift stores, goodwill stores and charity shops often have the most affordable second-hand furniture. If you’re on a budget but want quality pieces, scour second-hand shops on a regular basis as these items can be snapped up quickly.
Vintage, consignment and retro stores tend to be more expensive than op-shops and charity shops but the quality of their furniture is usually higher too. Some retro stores will specialise in mid-century pieces which can be quite expensive. Others will take a wider range of conditions and are great places to find a bargain.
Online marketplaces are another place to find used furniture. Trade Me and Facebook marketplace are popular online platforms. Just be aware that if you win a Trade Me auction, you’re committed to the sale. Shopping on Facebook marketplace is a bit more flexible as you can view the item with no commitment to buy it before you see what type of condition it is in.
Antique stores are generally the most expensive places to source second-hand furniture. These are places you can literally invest in furniture that might be worth even more than when you first bought it. Not all antique stores are expensive though.
If you must by new furniture, look for items that are built to last. How do you know it’s built to last? The item is:
When choosing sustainable furniture, the materials each piece is made from is also important. Look past the labels and ask questions about where your furniture is made. Wood from slow-growing trees is less sustainable than materials like bamboo, seagrass, cane and rattan, mango and rubber. These natural materials grow very fast as opposed to maple and oak, which take decades to mature.
In New Zealand, look for furniture that is made from local materials, including wood and wool. Look for furniture with a lifetime frame warranty and a long (ideally ten-year) foam warranty. This means your frame should last forever, but you may have to reupholster and restuff your chair or sofa after a decade of use.
Locally produced furniture is also best as it supports New Zealand businesses. While ethically made, designed and produced furniture is more expensive, it should also last you a lifetime.
No matter where you buy your furniture from, Wise Move can help you get it from the store to your door. Find a professional furniture mover here.
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