What’s wrong with fast furniture and a few ways to make better choices
Not too long ago we bought furniture to last. Sofas and dining tables would have a place in our homes for decades. Many of them were handed down through generations and were a part of our lives and embedded in our fondest memories. Those were the times when we placed value on workmanship and materials while looking after them. Furniture was fixed, whether it was with a new coat of varnish or new upholstery, again, and again until we couldn’t squeeze any more life out of it. Back then people cared more, but life was slower.
Society today is different; most of the furniture available to us is cheap, low quality, and mass-produced, designed to be disposable. Consumerism life is where you throw away a lot, all under the label of “convenience”.
Fast furniture is yet another element of our modern life. It makes sense to buy fashionable and cheap furniture because if we change our minds or see something better, it’s not a big deal.
What’s so bad about fast furniture?
The main argument is that it doesn’t last.
A lot of fast furniture is made from particleboard covered in veneer or laminate. If the surface gets damaged it can’t be sanded back and re-painted like solid timber. Exposed to moisture, the particleboard swells, and rots. The laminate is also prone to peeling away and splitting at the seams. Furniture made from particle board is unlikely to last more than a few years, especially if it is subject to any wear & tear. That includes disassembly and reassembly during a move. While it might seem like a good deal at the time, if we need to buy a dining table or a new bookshelf every five years, it adds up. If you were to spend more money on a decent quality piece, you would have it for decades.
Fast furniture is consumed and produced in the express lane. Just look at Ikea. It makes 15 Bill bookcases a minute which is made from veneer-covered particleboard. The said shelf has become so ubiquitous it is now being used as an economic index.
A huge proportion of landfill waste comes from the furniture. For instance, on average each Sydney household disposes of around 24 kilograms of wooden furniture per year. A lot of that furniture is difficult to recycle because it is made of composite materials, e.g., sofas, laminated particleboard, and mattresses.
It uses so much timber
Whether it is pressed or solid timber like plywood or particleboard, a lot of furniture is made from wood. IKEA uses almost 1% of the world’s commercially harvested wood. Even though it doesn’t seem like too much, it is a significant amount. While IKEA aims to source all its cardboard, paper, and wood from more sustainable sources by August 2020, the phrase ‘more sustainable’ is a bit vague. And aside from IKEA, many other fast furniture retailers continue to use wood from unsustainable sources.
Fast furniture is made from particleboard; not only is it toxic and contains chemicals like formaldehyde it also doesn’t last. It is also not biodegradable or recyclable due to the plastic laminate coating and the chemical resin binding the wood particles.
Some action has been taken around the world to ban certain flame retardant chemicals. Many toxic chemicals continue to be used in furniture manufacturing.
How to ditch fast furniture for smart furniture
A little more mindfulness is required. some tips for buying longer-lasting, healthier, and more eco-friendly furniture:
- buy for life
- buy fewer items of better quality
- know exactly what you’re after and don’t compromise
- seek out furniture companies that use toxic-free and sustainable materials
- buy timeless and stylish
- if fast furniture is unavoidable, be selective
- before you buy, ask yourself where your furniture will end up
Furniture obsession is not good for our planet. We need to start thinking about the lifecycle of furniture and where its materials came from, as well as where are they going to end up. Go for quality, value, and substance.