Why It’s Not Okay To Throw Out Usable Furniture And Buy New (Just Because We Can!)

A young friend who packed up and moved from Sydney to London last week (I know, not great timing going into Winter!) was shocked that her boyfriend was quite happy to throw out perfectly good furniture - without much thinking on where it was going to end up.

So this is a gentle reminder, it's not okay to throw out something in perfectly good working order - find a new home for it or repurpose! What's the old saying, one person's trash is another person's treasure. So so true.

I know I am speaking to the converted here, because most of you reading this are probably at the stage where you hate throwing anything away. And when you do, you think about where it's going to end up - avoiding landfill at all costs! What we need to do though is to convince our other half, children and flatmates to care more, and think about where something is going to end up. And, importantly, remind them of the alternatives to throwing away:

Repair - We throw away vast amounts of furniture, even things with almost nothing wrong, which could get a new lease of life after a simple repair. The trouble is, lots of people have forgotten that they can repair things or they don't know how. This is where the fabulous idea of Repair Cafescomes in. Visitors bring their broken items from home to the cafe and together, with volunteer specialists, they make their repairs and enjoy a cup of tea. There are currently over 1,500 Repair Cafés worldwide, check the website for one near you.

Reuse -sell your furniture online (eg. eBay, facebook marketplace); or hold your own garage sale.

[Image: Couches being sold on Facebook marketplace - where we get all our couches, and where someone will probably buy your old couch too!]

Give away - your furniture to charity shops; recycling services that often have free collections; or search online for your nearest Freecycle group. The Freecycle Network™ is made up of 5,336 groups with 9,039,928 members around the world. It's a free and nonprofit movement of people who are giving (and getting) stuff for free in their own towns and neighborhoods. It's all about reusing and keeping usable items out of landfill.

But why?

I guess you can liken buying cheap furniture to fast fashion, buying cheap clothes that are fashionable only to be worn for a season and then thrown away. Whether it's a new couch, or a new dress, materials have been taken from the Earth to create that item. Fossil fuels have been burned to extract or cut down and then transport those materials, and finally, to transport the new assembled item to the buyer. Where possible, try to buy good quality, classic furniture that stands the test of time; doesn't fall apart and doesn't go out of fashion. Yes, the costs are greater upfront but remember you get what you pay for. Save up for a quality piece or buy second hand. It's such a great sense of satisfaction when you find what you are looking for second hand. I can't tell you how many people comment on our vintage 1950's dining table and chairs.

When you are moving house or one of your children is moving out and you find yourself with furniture you no longer need (like single beds and children's furniture) there are lots of great options, literally at your fingertips. There are "collection services" for a wide range of household items, including mattresses. Each year in Australia around 1.25 million mattresses end up in landfill. Contact your local council first and see if they are aligned with a recycling program. If not, a quick online search for commercial mattress recycling in your area should bring up a few options. Some mattresses are then sent off for refurbishing and the ones that have reached their end are dismantled and materials are sent to local manufacturers or recyclers. Up to 75% of all mattress components are recycled. Eg. foam is reused as carpet underlay and steel springs recycled into roof sheeting.

And if you just can't find anyone who wants to take your perfectly good furniture you could think about storing it. That's if you are lucky enough to have a big garage or shed so you can hold onto it until someone you know needs it. We currently have a table suspended (on a homemade rope pulley) above our car, waiting for one of our children to want it. It looked a bit precarious at first, but 2 years later we've stopped worrying that it is going to fall onto our car!

My 24 year old son recently moved out and his younger sister has moved into his room (not sure what the protocol is if, and when, he comes back!). She has outgrown the furniture from her old room and it's ready to be put on Freecycle so another little girl can enjoy it.

Try not to get caught up in this world of over-consumerism, buying new furniture just because you can. Buy quality furniture that lasts, have it repaired or reconditioned and find a home for it when it's time. Some things like couches will eventually end up in landfill (or you can go the extra mile and get it reupholstered one day), but if you keep a couch for 20 years instead of 5 years you are making better use of all of the materials and energy that went into making it in the first place.

By Allison Licence

Allison Licence is a Sydney-based freelance writer and 1 Million Women volunteer who is passionate about the environment and finding ways to live more sustainably.

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