How to Ethically Dispose of Furniture
Every year, 9 million tons of furniture waste ends up in landfills. That’s a startling statistic, but it isn’t hard to see how it happens. Flimsy, cheap furniture degrades quickly and has little resale value. Furniture is large and difficult to recycle effectively. And you can only leave so many things on your curb before your neighbors start to get testy. So, we created a guide to ethical furniture disposal. With a little bit of research, it’s possible to minimize the waste that heads directly to landfills. It’s a small adjustment, but more people opting into better disposal methods can chip away at a big problem! Let’s break down the process.
Re-sell or Gift
Needs and space change. Everyone needs to let furniture go at one point or another. If your piece is in good shape —without obvious damage or areas of concern— the easiest possible solution is likely to resell or gift. The classic shopping sites, like Craigslist or Facebook Marketplace are great for this. If your item is a stylish, “designer” piece, you can try a local consignment store or higher-end sites like Chairish or Kaiyo. Make sure you write an adjective rich description of the item and include measurements to make it more likely someone stumbles across your piece! You can also use these sites (or similar ones, OfferUp and Nextdoor come to mind) to offer your item for free. There are probably plenty of people in your area who are on the lookout for something affordable or free for their space! Even if you don’t make any money on your item, you’ll be finding it a new, loving home.
You can also consider donating your gently-used furniture. Furniture banks in your local community often assist those dealing with housing insecurity by providing free or low-cost home furnishings, and are a wonderful way to pass along furniture you no longer need. The Furniture Bank Network has a handy tool on their website that lists local furniture banks across the US and Canada. Often, these organizations can pick up locally! Just be sure to check their procedures for donations during the Covid-19 pandemic. Other organizations accept furniture, too. Habitat for Humanity and Goodwill are two widely available options, both supporting important charitable causes. Habitat for Humanity works to eliminate housing insecurity, while Goodwill raises funds to help individuals who face barriers to employment. By reselling donated furniture items, both organizations can offer better services to those who depend on them.
Sometimes, furniture is no longer usable. In some cases, you can recycle your furniture! It can be a complicated process— certain materials (polyester foam from upholstered pieces and mattresses) require special equipment for processing. Be careful dropping furniture off at your municipal recycling facility, as often these facilities don’t have the ability to process furniture, which may result in your piece ending up in a landfill after all. For wooden pieces, solid wood is easily recycled, but particleboard is not. For metal furniture, you may be able to send it to a scrap metal facility, and you might even get paid for it! Just search in your local area and make sure you call ahead to confirm they can take your piece.
Upholstered items can be tricky, since they contain many different materials and typically are not accepted by local recycling programs. For couches and other seating, you’ll need to find a local junk removal service and confirm that they have a relationship with an appropriate recycling facility. For mattresses, the process is simpler. Some states, like California, have statewide programs that make mattress recycling easy. You can locate a local facility for mattress recycling using the tool built by the Mattress Recycling Council. Once your mattress is picked up, it will be broken down to its component materials and used as raw material for something new.
The very best way to eliminate furniture waste is to make sure you are purchasing thoughtfully from the outset. Consider your long term needs, and how they might change. For example, if you know you’ll be moving frequently, choose a sofa that can come apart in case of tight doorways or weird staircases. Modularity is an element worth noticing: if you’re buying a piece for a child (or even your current record collection) something modular can scale up as necessary.
Quality is also an important point of consideration. Consider investing in pieces that will last longer. Think of it as cost-per-wear for furniture. You won’t have to replace your pieces every few years, and it may be a better deal in the long run. You might even get to pass on some cool hand-me-downs to your future children. Vintage pieces can be a lower cost way to source high-quality furniture that is solidly built. Look for real wood (particle board will break down faster), heavy metal hinges and hardware, thick fabrics (go with a polyester blend for washability), and timeless silhouettes that avoid the latest fleeting trend.
If you must dispose of your furniture, thoughtful consideration of your options will make for less waste and a happier planet. It’s why we’re committed to changing the way people consume, keep, and enjoy their furniture. Even a small change can make a big difference.