Recycle your used furniture
Recycling your used furniture prevents wood, fabric, and foam waste from going to the landfill where its decomposition produces greenhouse gases and leeches toxic substances into soil and water. It also reuses natural resources, including wood, cotton, and petroleum-based products.
How to recycle your used furniture
Breaking apart an old couch or bedroom set to salvage the constituent parts can be an effective way to reuse various materials, but it's also time- and labor-intensive. Other ways to recycle your old pieces include reupholstering, fixing broken parts, and refinishing wood pieces.
Refinishing your old furniture
Whether you've got a beloved lounger or a simple little crib, you may be able to breath some new life into it with a bit of time and effort.
Repair and repaint
Got some furniture in a state of disrepair? Don't determine too quickly to send it to the curb. Instead, be proactive and try to fix it. Whether its chipped paint or a broken leg, furniture can often be repaired at far less cost (to you and the environment) than buying new.
- Repair: Put the spring back into a squeaky bed by tightening screws or replacing broken parts. Give your old table or chairs a leg to stand on by repairing uneven and wobbly components. In other words, do what you can to find the source of your funiture's ailments and attempt to fix them rather than just trashing what appears to be a useless piece of furniture. Get more furniture repair guidance with HowStuffWorks or DoItYourself.
- Refinish: Alternatively, with a little sanding, you may be able to apply a fresh coat of paint or stain to bring the old wood back to life. Or choose an entirely new color that'll suit your home's style and color scheme. Do the work yourself or hire a professional furniture refinisher or interior designer to give your historic pieces a high-quality refurbishment.
You'd be amazed at the makeover potential of sprucing up upholstered furniture with new fabric or cushions. A little nip and tuck, and slight reconfiguration, and you've got yourself an entirely new piece.
- Out of the box solutions: Buy a pre-made slipcover to drape over your old couch or chair. There are usually several standard sizes that fit various shapes and sizes.
- Hire a pro: If you can’t find a slipcover to meet your needs, pay an upholstery professional to create a customized re-design of your old comfy seating.
- DIYers delight: For those who are more budget-conscious, consider recovering the piece yourself. If you don’t know how, find an upholstery book in your local library or try taking an upholstery class at your local community college or vocational center. If you are more adventurous, remove the old fabric yourself and use it as a pattern to cut and sew new fabric in place. Be sure to give away old fabric, rather than sending it to a landfill. You can buy replacement fabric through your local fabric store, online, or from a secondhand store.
Recycling your furniture materials
If can't stomach repairing or remodeling your old furniture, then pull it apart to recycle all the separate materials. For this, you've got two options: retasking materials to reuse yourself or letting someone else do the reusing.
You may be able to find ways to reuse your used furniture parts for projects around your home:
- After you remove the nails from the wood, reuse the scrap wood for projects around your house, including a new headboard, legs for your armchair, or a shim (wedge) under your wobbly table.
- Use upholstery fabric to patch jeans or shirts, or to make a new skirt (remember to take note of the fiber content, though, so that you know how to launder it in the future).
- Repurpose the fabric and foam for use in various crafts, including doll furniture, valences, window seat cushions, quilts, dog beds, etc.
- Reuse the foam and pillow stuffing for new cushions around your house.
There are a couple of organizations that accept used wood and textiles for reuse:
- Visit Smartwood for a directory of companies that use recycled wood to make new products. The Rainforest Alliance's SmartWood program provides certification (look for Smartwood's "Rediscovered Wood" logo) to identify wood products that use salvaged, reclaimed, or recycled sources.
- Search Earth 911 for a wood recycling center in your area.
- If the wood’s in good condition, you can donate it to a Habitat for Humanity Home Improvement Outlet or other charities that need building materials.
- Although you're unlikely to find a textile recycling program in your community, you may be able to donate your discarded upholstery fabric to secondhand or thrift stores, who in turn either sell the fabric to customers, or pass it along for sale in foreign countries.
Find it! Furniture recyclers
Some organizations specifically recycle furniture waste (wood, textiles, or both) in one form or another. Also, some thrift stores accept waste textiles, including fabrics taken off an old chair or couch. But, you may want to call ahead to confirm this before making a trip to your local secondhand store.
This group matches donations of business and household items, including clothes, with the wish-lists of nearby nonprofits that can pick up items or will accept drop-offs. It operates in the US, Canada, and beyond.
Goodwill sells donated goods in more than 2,000 retail stores. As of 2006, Goodwill stores had sold more than 2 million items received from more than 58 million donors.
Donate your used couch or waste materials to a Habitat ReStore in your area. These outlets, located nationwide, sell used and surplus building materials and other items at discount prices. Proceeds help fund construction of Habitat houses.
Known worldwide, The Salvation Army helped more than 33 million people in 2004. Of each dollar spent by this organization, 83 cents is used to furnish direct aid to people. Each donated item sold at The Salvation Army's thrift stores goes toward its adult addiction recovery programs.
Recycling your old furniture helps you go green because…
- It prevents wood, cotton, and foam waste from going to the landfill, where its decomposition produces greenhouse gases and may release other toxic chemicals.
- It eliminates the need to harvest virgin trees from the world’s forests, protecting watersheds, as well as habitat for wildlife and understory plants.
- It prevents new land from being cultivated for textile fibers, such as cotton or wool.
- It saves energy because, generally, the steps required to supply recycled materials to industry (including collection, processing, and transportation) use less energy than the steps required to supply virgin materials to industry (including extraction, transportation and processing).
- It reduces pollution because no new items (which typically must be dyed and treated with chemicals) are required.
Resource savings from recycling old furniture are significant. Furniture is not only bulky, requiring a lot of landfill space, it is also dense with natural materials, most of which is either wood or textile in nature and can be recycled. If sent to the dumb, they pose several significant environmental risks.
It is estimated that the US produces 8.75 billion pounds of textile waste every year, which takes up about 4 percent of landfill space across the country. The average American throws away 68 pounds of clothing and textile waste per year. Most of the waste is generated by consumers, but North American spinning mills, weavers, and fabric manufacturers also contribute to textile waste by sending 25,000 tons of new textile fiber to landfills each year.
The textile recycling industry, including more than 2,000 US companies, diverts 2.5 billion pounds of post-consumer textile product waste from landfills annually. Both residential- and industry-discarded fibers can be used to make a variety of products when recycled (including wiping cloths, rugs, and filling products), thus conserving landfill space, preventing more land from being cultivated for fiber-producing crops, and saving water, energy, and pesticides.
Many of these reclaimed textiles are exported to developing countries for reprocessing and/or use there. In fact, between 1990 and 2003, the US exported approximately 7 billion pounds of used clothing and textiles around the world.
In 2003, the United States generated nearly 6 million tons of wood waste that went to landfills. The decomposition of landfill wastes is the largest source of human-related methane emissions in the United States. Compared to carbon dioxide by weight, methane is almost 21 times more powerful at warming the atmosphere. Furniture waste can also contain harmful substances, such as preservatives, stains and paints, and polyurethane foam, all of which damage human and environmental health.
In addition, recycling wood reduces the need to harvest trees from the world’s forests. Harvesting trees negatively impacts the earth’s biodiversity when habitat is destroyed, plus it affects the earth’s ability to absorb greenhouse gases, including carbon dioxide. Trees absorb CO2 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.
- Europa Eurpean Commission - Furniture and other manufactured goods
- National Recycling Coalition
- Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection - Recycling Saves Energy
- Rainforest Alliance
- Secondary Materials and Recycled Textiles Association
- Textiles On Line
- Waste Online - Textile recycling information sheet
- BeSmart.org - Textile Recycling
- Secondary Materials and Recycled Textiles Association - Don't Overlook Textiles!
- Dezingnare - Textile Recycling by Worldwise
- US Environmental Protection Agency - Organic Materials: Basic Information about Wood Waste
- US Environmental Protection Agency - Landfill Methane Outreach Program: Methane Emissions from Landfills
- US Environmental Protection Agency - Methane: Greenhouse Gas Properties
- American Forest and Paper Association - Benefits of Wood Use