One of the beautiful things about furniture is that it’s (generally) designed to last. Unlike say, single-use water bottles or fast fashion garments, you’re likely to have a well-made piece of furniture for many years. Hopefully it will age well, and over time, will begin to look satisfyingly well loved. In fact, a decent piece of furniture can buck the trend when it comes to a system that has, historically, preferred to trash rather than treasure.
However, despite all of this, the furniture and interior design industries still present plenty of challenges when it comes to sustainability and the huge amounts of waste generated. As with any industry, striving for Zero Waste is a core concern, then there’s the issue of deforestation of rare hardwoods, the impact of textile manufacturing processes, the problem of disposing of large items once they are no longer fit for purpose, and a burgeoning fast furniture industry to contend with too.
That’s not to say that things aren’t beginning to change though, and it’s now easier than ever to find eco-friendly furniture that’s both sustainable and stylish. Here, we take a look at how innovative brands are bringing a splash of chic to homes around the world and why the reduce, reuse, recycle mantra is beginning to make an impact on the industry.
Sustainable Wood and Reclaimed Materials
Whenever buying new furniture made with wood, always look for FSC certified products that come from sustainably managed forests or that use reclaimed materials. Eco Chic is one brand that uses reclaimed wood from boats to manufacturer its eclectic and rather stylish pieces. This not only reduces demand for rare woods such as teak or mahogany bit it also minimises waste going to landfill and creates jobs in many local communities in South East Asia where the wood is reclaimed.
Alternatively, for something a little closer to home, the world-renowned West Elm is a brand that has a fair trade selection, an FSC-Certified selection and an organic selection. Support what you believe in!
Leather and Fabric
The leathers and fabrics used in furniture are often treated with toxic chemicals that are particularly damaging to the environment. Leather, of course, is also a product of a cattle farming industry that is thought to contribute around 14.5% of the greenhouse gasses produced by human activity.
For something of a curveball, why not give hemp fabric a try in place of traditional cotton or leather. Hemp is highly sustainable thanks to its fast-growing nature that halves the amount of land required when compared to cotton. It also thrives without the use of pesticides, cutting down on harmful pollutants at the cultivation stage. You can find a variety of hemp pieces at ecoSelect.
Plastic is now recognised as one of the biggest polluters of the last 50 years. It’s quite literally everywhere, and thanks to its almost indestructible design, it’s not going anywhere soon. However, a few innovative designers are beginning to turn all that waste plastic into stylish pieces of furniture and give it a new home (that’s not the ocean).
Tiptoe is a French brand doing just that with their recycled plastic coffee tables, using yoghurt pots or packaging that have been reduced to chippings and then pressed (without any binding agent) so as to form a board.
Luken is a Mexican brand recycled around 600 bottles for in one of their pieces, setting the standard for plastic reuse in the furniture and homeware industry.
In theory, glass is infinitely recyclable but in truth, due to contamination during recycling processes, this is very often not the case. However, why bother with recycling when this attractive material can be used as a piece of top-quality furniture? One company making use of old glass to make luxurious counter top surfaces and other products is IceStone. Made in the US with 75% recycled glass, the company’s variety of alluring designs are completely free of petrochemical and plastic resins and can be manufactured to your specific size requirements.
The Second Hand Approach
Design usually comes at a price—but it doesn’t necessarily have to be that way for savvy second-hand store trawlers. Warehouses, factories, offices, and hotels often need to remove furniture by bulk, and much of that either ends up donated to charity stores or on the second hand market. You could also go for vintage furniture on websites such as Vinterior. Buying used furniture reduces the need to manufacture more, while also ensuring you can get your hands on some seriously unique pieces.
Upcycling is another option, and you’ll find countless examples of beautifully repurposed furniture or second hand items lovingly restored on Etsy, Ebay, and other marketplaces. So, start digging today and find your own one-of-a-kind pieces and make your home sustainable & stylish without destroying the environment.
Image credits: Alexandra Gorn, Avery Klein, Hutomo Abrianto, Olena Sergienko — thank you.
Shannon Bergstrom is a Sustainability Operations Manager at Recycle Track Systems. She loves learning about and partnering with innovative companies to create solutions for managing waste. A Staten Island native and current Brooklyn resident, she knows the best spots in town for pizza and bagels or a scenic running route.