Saving our planet one piece of furniture at a time
Did you know that 51% of furniture that’s disposed of is still usable?
Or that we dispose of 700,000 tonnes of furniture every year into landfill? To put that into perspective, that’s the equivalent of 5000 fully grown blue whales — the largest sea mammal to have ever lived, who’s tongue can weigh the same as an adult elephant…. #mindblown
So, whats the first thing that comes to your head when you think of our planets’ current environmental state? Global warming — now more accurately described as global heating? Climate change — though it is argued that climate crisis or climate emergency or even climate breakdown is more apt?
You may be one of those who thinks that it is too late for us to make a difference; what is the point of recycling plastic when the Amazon rainforest is being destroyed; what is the point of eating less meat and dairy with the amount of CO2 that is being belched into the atmosphere by energy companies burning the remainder of the Earth’s fossil fuels?
Or you may be like me, who thinks that every little thing we can do to help offset our carbon footprint is a step in the right direction (excuse the pun).
And it just so happens that one of these little steps in the right directions will not only save you some money in the long run but also involves one of my favourite things — furniture!
Not to be dramatic, but flat pack furniture sucks. Yes it’s cheap, yes it’s convenient and yes, although it pains me to say it, it can be pretty stylish. But if you look past the (initial) small price tag, you can see the harmful effect that throwaway furniture trends are having on our environment. Of course I’m not suggesting that there isn’t a place for flat pack furniture — can you imagine trying to get an ornate, bulky Victorian sideboard up three flights of stairs to a top floor flat? But there are millions of homes across the world full of mass produced products with an approximate lifespan of about two minutes which are destined to end up in the bin.
Not only does this unfortunately mean that our individuality is being curbed as it is pretty much impossible to walk into any house on your street and not see at least one Ikea product, but it also means there are mounds and mounds of cheaply made chairs, tables, wardrobes (and everything else) laying broken and discarded in landfill.
But did you know this is totally avoidable? Although the majority of flatpack furniture is not technically recyclable, there are “recycling” schemes available that aim to help reduce the amount of furniture that ends up in landfill once the short life of these products have come to an end. Or you can have a hand at fixing it yourself, however be warned that due to the nature of the product, the longevity of repaired flat pack furniture is pretty low especially as the furniture was never really made to last anyway!
Vintage or antique furniture will outlive you
If you regularly attend auctions, vintage fairs or even just casually scroll the internet looking at furniture, the chances are you will have come across a piece of furniture that is 100+ years old. I am lucky enough to have worked with these beautiful pieces for over 6 years now and it never fails to amaze me how sturdy old handmade furniture can be. It’s survived wars, fires and has normally been passed down generations of families. So how does a 16th century mule chest survive so long? To put it simply, it was built to last. Furniture was built with the intention to survive and to be passed down to children as a heirloom — pieces crafted in this time often had a family crest or initials carved into the cartouche (the fancy bit by the lock!)
Due to the hard wearing nature of the materials that were used back in the day when vintage and antique furniture was designed and built, most of it can be restored. And generally, it is extremely rare to find an antique which hasn’t received some form of additional cosmetic help (almost as rare as finding a Kardashian who hasn’t!) e.g a repaired chip to a leg, a sanded down & repolished surface or a seat pad with a bit of extra stuffing. To me, this is all part of the charm. So what about flat pack then? Can you restore it or fix it? You can to an extent, but as we mentioned above, the longevity of this type of furniture is pretty poor to start with so will not last too much longer once it is damaged! It is still worth a try if you can — anything to avoid the continued clogging up of landfill with Ikea Kallax shelves — but unfortunately this type of furniture just isn’t built to be repaired.
If, however, your antique or vintage piece suffers a little mishap such as you spilling a glass of wine when you’ve had one too many, or your kids finding your marker pens and giving it a “makeover” then no need to worry, there are thousands of videos online showing you how you can and will be able to sort the issue! Or if you don’t have the time, or aren’t that handy, then get on Google and start searching for a furniture restorer — believe me, they aren’t too difficult to find!
MDF — Massively Detrimental to our Future
Antique and vintage furniture is, for the most part, made from solid wood — metal did have it’s place and as time wore on plastic began to become more common. Antiques tended to be made from woods such as oak, mahogany, elm and pine — natural and strong! Medium density fibreboard, a.k.a MDF, was invented (completely by accident) in the 1960s and became popular with furniture manufacturers despite it’s lack of durability in the 1980s due to it’s cheapness. MDF was initially invented as a way of using up left over wood chips from lumbar mills. Sounds great right? Well no, not so much; as the practice became more popular, the demand for MDF grew and this wonderful way of using up left over wood chips suddenly became an industry which needed more than just left overs and began to become more of a strain on the planet in terms of the amount of wood required.
Then there is the issue of the “binders” used in the manufacturing process — a formaldehyde-based glue is used to bond the wood fibres together. You might recognise the chemical formaldehyde as what is used for preserving dead bodies, but it is also a very well known carcinogen (cause of cancer). This means that not only is the manufacturing process dangerous to humans, but once the MDF furniture inevitably ends up in landfill, these cancer causing toxins are then released into the environment for humans, animals & plants to absorb — yum!
Is it worth it?
We are all guilty of excessive consumption — admittedly some more than others but we do all enjoy the process of buying things and that initial moment of satisfaction when you buy something that’s new. The thing is, this enjoyment is fleeting and passes by in just a second before your brain moves on to the next thing. This has become a bigger issue in recent years but luckily, we are now starting to realise the damages it causes. If you throw something away, the chances are it will end its life in landfill. The same goes for furniture — if you take it to the tip, it will end it’s life releasing dangerous toxins into both the atmosphere and the earths core for many years to come. So instead of making the rash decision in buying something flimsy that you know isn’t going to last, think of the consequences it may have on our planet first. If this isn’t a big enough reason for you to think twice before you buy new, flat packed furniture then why not look at buying antique or vintage as an investment? Here’s an article I wrote a few weeks back about how investing in Mid-Century furniture can actually be a great financial investment for the future!