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Buy chairs made from reclaimed or recycled materials

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A chair made from recycled or reclaimed content—whether gracing your living room or your dining room—means it's constructed from salvaged materials like aluminum, wood, and plastic that would otherwise go to the landfill. Choosing a chair made from reclaimed or recycled materials also ensures new materials, such as trees and petroleum products, are not mined from the earth.

How to choose a chair made from reclaimed or recycled materials

  1. Do a little research: Search your local phone book and the Internet for furniture companies that sell chairs made from recycled materials. When looking for reclaimed wood chairs, use these key words: recycled wood, reclaimed lumber, reused wood or rediscovered wood. Alternate materials to search for: recycled plastic, recycled aluminum, and recycled fabric.
  2. Certified recycled: Visit SmartWood for a directory of certified rediscovered wood products. The Rainforest Alliance's SmartWood program provides certification to identify wood products that use salvaged, reclaimed, or recycled sources. Look for SmartWood's "Rediscovered Wood" logo.

Find it! Reclaimed or recycled wood chair makers

Designers worldwide are looking for unique ways to use recycled materials in their furniture, as you’ll see below. Whether you’re looking for a refined, classic chair, or a more modern, sleek appeal, there’s something for you.

For those looking for kid-friendly seating, why not consider making a recycled beanbag chair of your own with leftover packing peanuts and other materials around your house.

Before you buy

Many eco-friendly furniture designers develop their creations abroad, so although suppliers are available nationwide, choice of recycled-content furniture in your locale may be limited. You’ll also pay a premium for some recycled-content pieces, especially wood. The process of salvaging wood from demolition sites is time- and labor-intensive. In addition, most of the wood salvaged is originally from old-growth forests—a threatened resource—and is considered a high-quality product.

Recycled wood needs to be properly processed before it is reused. Reclaimed or salvaged wood is often treated with various chemicals to protect against rotting from insects and microbial agents.[1] These chemicals include chromated copper arsenic (CCA) or ammoniacal copper arsenate (ACA), which contain toxic arsenic and chromium and are considered hazardous wastes by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). A better option is reclaimed or salvaged wood treated with ammonium/copper/quaternary ammonia (ACQ),[2] which is free of these hazardous substances and has been registered for use on lumber, timbers, landscape ties, fence posts, and other wood structures.[3] The wood should also be planed and kiln-dried to ensure it will not warp and that insects are destroyed. To be sure these steps are performed in an environmentally responsible manner, seek products certified as "Rediscovered Wood" by SmartWood.

Choosing a chair made from recycled or reclaimed wood helps you go green because…

  • They eliminate the need to harvest virgin resources from the earth, protecting wild spaces.
  • They use existing products that would otherwise go to the landfill.
  • They generally require less energy in their remanufacture than new products.[4]

Plastic and aluminum reuse

The percentage of solid waste recycled in the US was just 6.4 percent in 1960, which equaled 5.6 million tons of municipal solid waste (MSW). The recycling rate increased moderately until municipalities expanded curbside collection and other recycling programs, pushing the recycling rate to 32.1 percent of MSW in 2005. That rate equals 79 million tons of recycled MSW.[5] There were estimated to be over 8,500 curbside recycling programs nationwide in 2005, down slightly from nearly 8,900 in 2002.[6]

Recycling aluminum instead of mining and processing virgin ore results in energy savings of up to 95 percent; recycling plastics can reduce energy consumption by 70 percent.[7] Since some materials, like aluminum, can be recycled locally and repeatedly, the costs of transporting raw materials long distances for manufacturing can be reduced or eliminated as well. Recycling even plays a role in reducing emissions of climate-changing greenhouse gases. Recycling programs are estimated to have kept the equivalent of 39 million car's worth of carbon out of the atmosphere in 2005.[8]

A key factor in the viability of recycling programs is demand for recycled products. When consumers purchase products made from recycled materials, they are not only saving valuable natural resources and energy, but are also supporting necessary markets for recycled materials.[9]

Wood reuse

In 2003, the US generated nearly 6 million tons of wood waste that went to landfills.[10] The US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) recommends reusing and recycling wood to divert it from landfills or incinerators, thereby helping to protect human health as well as land, air and water resources. In addition, wood recycling prevents greenhouse gas emissions from landfills and reduces the need for new disposal facilities.[11]

Wood recyclers divert wood from landfills and remanufacture it into new products. They salvage hardwoods, such as chestnut, hickory, cherry, and oak, from old houses, barns, and warehouses that are slated for demolition. They also use trees removed from old orchards or urban areas due to disease or death.[12] Others specialize in reclaiming wood from the bottom of rivers and lakes that sank decades ago during logging operations.[13]

Using recycled wood also reduces the need to harvest trees from the world’s forests. For example, salvaging 1 million board feet of reusable lumber from an old warehouse can offset the need to harvest 1,000 acres of forest.[12] The harvest of trees negatively impacts the earth’s biodiversity when habitat is destroyed and affects its ability to absorb greenhouse gases. Trees absorb carbon dioxide, a greenhouse gas, and "exhale," or release, oxygen. It's estimated that an acre of trees can grow 4,000 pounds of wood per year while consuming 5,800 pounds of carbon dioxide and producing 4,280 pounds of oxygen.[14]

Controversies

Reclaimed or recycled wood, salvaged from old buildings or construction projects, can be an environmentally responsible choice, but the labeling of products made from these types of woods can be misleading. For instance, reclaimed wood taken from a lake or river without sufficient care can cause significant ecosystem damage, and therefore should be avoided. Truly sustainable reclaimed or recycled wood will include a label indicating the source and extraction methods used to obtain it.

Glossary

  • recycled wood: Post-consumer wood that has been processed (usually by mechanical means) to be used in the manufacture of a new product.
  • reclaimed lumber: Post-consumer wood that has been used for another purpose and is being salvaged for a new use. Almost all reclaimed wood is a high-grade wood as it was originally harvested from old-growth forests.[15]
  • reused wood: Wood products or materials that, after serving their original function, are used again in their present form.[16]
  • rediscovered wood: A term used by Rainforest Alliance’s certification program to describe wood that is recovered, recycled, and reused.[17]

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