Fast Furniture: What’s Wrong With It and How to Make Better Choices!
Updated: Feb 9
Not too long ago there was a time when we bought furniture that was made to last. A table and a couch not only had a place in our homes but often the homes of our children and grandchildren as they were passed through generations. That way the pieces became a part of our lives and embedded in our memories.
The times I am referring to are the times when we placed value on our furniture because they really had value! And we placed value on the furniture because the people that made it placed value on their workmanship and materials. And since we valued the pieces, we looked after them. When something broke, we fixed it. Let it be a new varnish or new upholstery, we did what we had to do to bring the best out of the furniture we owned. But things were much slower then.
So What Changed?
Today, most of the furniture available to us is cheap, mass-produced, low-quality, breaks easily and is designed to be disposable. Yes, that is the world we live in today - a world that consumes a lot and throws away. Today, all of that is hidden under the cloak of “convenience.” Everything has to be convenient.
Life in the fast lane is now the norm. We’re not walking anymore, but we’re running - always rushing around. Fast furniture became just another part of that never-ending race. It makes sense to buy that cheap and flimsy bookshelf because on average we move once every 5 years in the U.S. –and who wants to carry that heavy stuff around when it's so easily thrown out and bought new.
So What’s so Bad about Fast Furniture?
It doesn’t last. Many can relate to the feeling of unpacking that Ikea bookshelf, and already having it broken a few minutes into the process of assembling it. That is because a lot of it is made from flimsy particleboard covered in plastic laminate.
If it chips or breaks, it can’t be sanded or repainted like solid timber, and if exposed to moisture, the particleboard swells and rots. The laminate is also prone to splitting and peeling away at seams and corners, meaning that it is not likely to last longer than a few years. It may be tempting to buy that cheap furniture, but when you have to replace it every few years, it does add up. In fact, the average American spends about $518 on furniture a year – that is over $40,000 on furniture in a lifetime.
It’s overproduced. Not hard to guess that our consumption is simply mirrored by the production of fast furniture. In fact, Ikea makes about 15 billy bookcases a minute (yup, that laminate covered particleboard) and over 70,000,000 have been produced to this date –most of which are probably landfilled. This is seen in the amount of landfill that furniture creates. Any guesses on how much just in the United States? 9.7 million tons of furniture are landfilled every year in North America alone. That is about 4 couches every single second or about 500 couches since you started reading this article.
It requires entire forests. It’s not that people don’t want to recycle the furniture that leaves their homes, it actually isn’t recyclable with over 80% of all furniture ending up in the landfill, and only 0.3% being recycled.
This makes furniture the least likely household item to be recycled. Every time we purchase a new item, that means new trees being chopped, and today we have reached a point where they require entire forests. In fact, Ikea uses a large chunk of the commercially available wood, and regardless of their vague promises to source their wood sustainably, we can still observe cases where it comes from protected lands and biodiversity hotspots.
And it’s extremely toxic. Fast furniture is not only cheap, but all the materials used in its production are cheap. For the companies producing them, the cheaper the better. As mentioned, much of it is made from particleboard, which not only doesn’t last but needs to be combined with a chemical cocktail to make it usable for furnishing items.
This cocktail contains chemicals such as formaldehyde, plastic laminate, and synthetic resins to bind the wood particles. This makes furniture not only non-recyclable but non-biodegradable and even toxic to us!
Some items, particularly beds and sofas, contain a mixture of extremely toxic chemicals. From dyes, leather-tanning chemicals, Scotchgard, and flame retardants to polyurethane foam, particle boards, adhesives, and lacquer. Not so pleasant to know that we're sitting and sleeping on furniture which emits toxic and carcinogenic compounds polluting the air we breathe in our homes for years!
When we bring in a piece of fast furniture to our home, there is not only a measurable difference in pollutants in the air but even in our bodies. When thinking that we spend about a third of our entire lifetimes in bed, it only makes sense that we would want that place to be healthy and safe. So how can we make good choices when it comes to our home decor. Is it even possible to find furniture that doesn’t bankrupt us, isn’t harmful to the environment, and neither toxic to our health? In a fast world that’s being flooded with fast furniture, we may think that it is near impossible, but there are some options that make the buying and even selling of furniture as easy, sustainable, and healthy as possible.
Making Better Choices Easier: A Circular Economy
Unfortunately, there are numerous barriers for people like you and me when it comes to buying and getting rid of furniture sustainably.
Marketplaces such as Craigslist and Offer-up usually have a broad range of products, but to buy –let’s say a couch– you need at least two people, a truck, and time –a lot of it. And most of us have experienced first hand, that pieces often turn out to be falsely advertised or in a faulty condition.
The same goes for sellers. If you want to sell an item, you have to take good pictures, upload it on various platforms, and eventually have a stranger come to your house that probably wants to argue about your pricing.
This is where the Kashew marketplace comes in handy. At Kashew we aim to make better choices easier. On the buyer’s side, you can easily get your hands on second-hand items without the struggle of renting a truck or the heavy lifting. We aim to make buying second-hand furniture as seamless where you know that the quality of the furniture is not only assured but insured. On the sellers’ side also, you can conveniently upload your furniture and let us take care of the rest.
The best is still to come. We all know that furniture requires trees – a lot of them. But at Kashew, we believe that it can plant them too. Therefore we pledge to use 20% of our profits to plant them in areas where they are needed across biodiversity hotspots through our reforestation partners.
The furniture industry has to be reimagined as our lives get faster. The answer isn’t simply reduction, but the reusing of furniture. All those pieces that are thrown away have a unique story to tell –today we’re working hard so that the story doesn’t end at the landfill, but is told and rewritten again over generations to come.
Because furniture isn’t supposed to leave a mark on our planet, but in our homes.
BBC: Toxic chemicals, How safe is your furniture?, BBC Editor
Branch: The Environmental impact of office furniture, Greg Hayes
Curbed: Nine million tons of furniture go to landfills every year. This company has a better plan, Jeff Andrews
Domino: Heads-up: The furniture you tossed to the curb may just become a work of art, Brittany Natale
Environmental Protection Agency (EPA): Durable goods: Product-specific data, EPA editor