In 2017, Americans sent 9.7 million tons of furniture to landfill, according to the EPA. Worse, the same agency found that only 0.3% of that furniture waste was then reclaimed for recycling.
That’s why we’ve put together a guide to eco-friendly furniture, it’s up to us all to do better than this.
What Is Eco-Friendly Furniture?
A good place to start when determining if furniture is eco-friendly is to look at 5 factors surrounding the piece in question.
This process isn’t as daunting as it sounds and once you’ve got some practice at it, it is, in fact, fairly straightforward to ask a few questions of the vendor and then Google for the bits that they don’t know.
The choice of materials. You’re looking to ensure that the materials used in the furniture have the least possible environmental impact in terms of their sourcing. So, are they easily renewable? Can you recycle them? Are they non-toxic to people and the planet? Then you also want to make sure that their processing doesn’t create any form of pollution and ideally, that they’ve been certified by a 3rd party to give some authority to the eco-friendly claims regarding the materials used.
The choice of production method. When the furniture itself is being made, you want the manufacturer to be focused on low to no carbon footprint and to minimize water use and the use of toxic chemicals. You should also examine the social impact and, in particular, if they are using “fair trade” or “fair made” policies.
How is the piece finished? Again, are any finishing agents used non-toxic? Does the finish produce any harmful fumes?
An analysis of the cradle to grave impact of the piece. Almost done now, this is simply a question of ensuring that your purchase will be reusable, recyclable and then biodegrade when it is disposed of.
Is it durable? Finally, look at the item and ask yourself, “is it built to last?” Much of the eco-unfriendly nature of many industries, including furniture, is down to producing low-quality pieces that need constant replacement. High quality pieces reduce the need to consume more.
So, for example, if we were looking at Ikea, we’d know that, despite their current efforts, their products aren’t entirely eco-friendly and, perhaps, that would motivate us to make a different choice of furniture purchase.
A good resource, if you’re pressed for time, to find out if something is sustainable is Inhabitat which offers plenty of information on eco-friendly materials and “smart design” principles that can help guide your choices.
Let’s take a look at what sort of materials you’re looking for in eco-friendly furniture and some concrete examples of them:
Sofas, seating, etc.
Cushions should be made from latex rather than foam and produced under the GOLS (Global Organic Latex Standard). The coils inside should be made from recycled metal. The padding from organic and biodegradable material such as bamboo or wool.
Fabrics should be made of natural materials, not plastics; seek out GOTS, C2C or Oeko-Tex certifications.
As most of this stuff is made from wood, you ideally want to find products certified by the Forest Stewardship Council, or which has been reclaimed or salvaged.
Workstations can also be certified by Greenguard though we think it’s better to buy something second hand and give it a new life in this area
Opt for low or no-VOC (volatile organic compound) finishes
It is always best to go with pre-loved dining room furniture which is going to get you some awesome vintage options with high quality craftsmanship
If you do buy new – avoid plastics of any kind, opt for wood (see above sections for certification), glass or recycled metals (try to avoid chrome-finished metals as this is potentially toxic and maybe even carcinogenic).
For pieces like dressers, bedroom tables, etc. you might want to consider pre-loved and all wood bought new should be certified (as in the sections above) or reclaimed
Where Can You Buy Eco-Friendly Furniture Online?
Fortunately, with the rise in interest in green issues around the world, buying eco-friendly furniture doesn’t have to be too challenging and there are plenty of places to buy eco-friendly furniture online such as West Elm, Burrow, Avocado, etc. and a Google search will quickly reveal many more options.
Is Secondhand Furniture Eco-Friendly?
Yes. You can’t undo any harm to the environment that was done when secondhand furniture was made or any social harm that it caused.
What you can do, however, is prevent any future harm to the environment and that is eco-friendly.
Final Thoughts On Guide to Eco Friendly Furniture
If we want to make a dent in the nearly 9 million tons of furniture sent to landfill annually, we all need to get behind eco-friendly furniture.
The good news is that it doesn’t need to be expensive to do this, you can always buy second hand furniture.
And if you buy new, then our guide to eco-friendly furniture is all you need to ask the right questions before you bring something home.
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