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Furniture and the environment

In our modern world, fueled by desire for convenience and speed, the appeal of fast furniture is undeniable. Mass manufactured pieces from big box retailers are often affordable and, through the right marketing techniques, appear unique and original. However, our continued support for these stores not only contributes to our need for instant gratification, it also fuels throwaway culture and takes a massive toll on the environment. Many fast-fashion companies have recently come under scrutiny for their detrimental impact on our environment. Fast-furniture is no different. Through educating ourselves on how continued support for these retailers negatively impacts our planet, we are taking one step forward to making more environmentally-friendly, conscious purchasing decisions. 


 

Defining fast-furniture

Fast-furniture is exactly what it sounds like. It is designed to be made quickly, inexpensive, and easy to obtain. Of course, this is at the expense of not only the environment but also quality of materials and (pun intended) shelf-life. 


What impacts does fast-furniture have on the environment? 

There are a few angles from which fast furniture’s negative impact on the environment can be viewed. We will lay out a few below. 


Runoff

Typically, stores are named big-box once they take up 50,000 or more square feet of floor space. Establishments of this size require large designated spaces upon which they are built. As a result, they are often placed on the outskirts of towns. This results in the additional building of large parking lots at these stores to support the influx of customers driving to a. An outskirt location that is unlikely to have reliable public transit and b. To be able to effectively transport a large piece of furniture in their car. A 200,000 sq. ft. store covers 4 acres. A parking lot for a store this size can be expected to be 12 acres! In a forest, water from rainfall would soak into the ground. In a parking lot, the water flows across the surface, gets warmer, and collects pollutants. This runoff then flows to nearby bodies of water and hurts the vegetation and fish. According to the ILSR, a 12 acre parking lot generates 309,694 gallons of contaminated runoff during just a 1 inch storm. 1


Greenhouse Gasses

The UN lists the manufacturing industry as one of the biggest contributors to greenhouse gas emissions worldwide. 2 Big box retailers that mass-manufacture furniture require large facilities to run. These facilities require a lot of electricity to run, which comes from burning fossil fuels. Burning coal, oil, or natural gasses produces CO2 and NO, trapping heat around the Earth’s surface. Furthermore, transporting these pieces of furniture from large manufacturing facilities (often overseas, to cut costs) requires ships and planes, which also run on fossil fuels. 


Landfill

In order to keep prices low, big box furniture stores rely on low quality materials. Harsh chemicals and unsustainable materials not only cause these furniture pieces to wear down faster, but make them virtually impossible to recycle. The EPA found that 80% of end-of-life furniture was landfilled, as opposed to being recycled. In 1960, furniture and furnishings accounted for 2.2 million tons of solid waste. In 2018, that number skyrocketed to 12.1 million tons.

Toxic Substances

Some materials made out of recycled scraps, such as particle board, may be considered “green” at surface level. However, due to the physical process it takes to reconstruct these scraps into a solid piece, manufacturing still uses a lot of energy. Additionally, many particleboards contain formaldehyde, a hazardous chemical. If a furniture piece containing particle board were to be thrown away, formaldehyde particles could be emitted into the air or enter water sources, where they could have a detrimental effect on wildlife and vegetation. 3 4 


Not only the environment

You can read more about other ways that fast furniture negatively affects the art of furniture making and our local communities in this opinion piece.


How Heirloom Helps

Heirloom was designed with the intention of helping NC residents connect with furniture makers in their community. By supporting local artisans and buying custom furniture, you are helping in a myriad of ways. Buying furniture from a local craftsperson 1. Does not require a large manufacturing facility 2. Ensures that your piece is durable and long lasting, helping to reduce the rate at which we landfill our end-of-life furniture pieces and 3. Does not require hazardous materials, like formaldehyde, to manufacture. Check out our top five reasons to shop heirloom on our homepage here.


 

References used to aid in the writing of this article: 

1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 


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