Fast furniture is an issue we take very seriously at Forti Goods, which is why we made a point to manufacture in the US. Like fast food and fast fashion, fast furniture negatively affects the environment in exchange for ease and convenience. It’s essentially the same concept as fast food or fashion—buying cheap, trendy, easy-to-get-rid-of pieces because they’re more affordable and less necessary to pack up when moving time comes. Fast furniture lets you have your trendy living room and easily change it too.
But this nonchalant attitude of expediency comes with serious environmental costs, from overcrowding landfills to creating more emissions from shipping. In this blog, we break down what fast furniture shopping habits are doing to the environment and how a change in behavior can mitigate those negative impacts.
Short-Lived Materials, Long-Lasting Impacts
Fast furniture has strayed from traditional wood materials to a lighter alternative: particleboard. The goal of this switch was to reduce shipping costs by creating lightweight furniture, but the effects are far more reaching than the industry’s bottom line or the total of your shopping cart.
Using lighter, less sturdy materials means the furniture lasts only a fraction of the time a well-made, solid wood piece of furniture would last. Not only does this defeat the purpose of building or shopping lightweight pieces (how much are you really saving if you have to replace the piece of furniture every few years?), but it also leads to a lot of waste in our already overcrowded landfills.
According to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), Americans generated over 12 million tons of furniture and furnishings waste in 2018 alone. Only 60 years ago, we were generating less than 2.5 million tons of furniture and furnishings waste per year. This drastic increase is not in line with the country’s population growth, meaning we’re consuming much more than we should be, and it’s not good.
Fast Furniture in Landfills
Adding all of this cheap material to our landfills only makes climate change matters worse. Many finishes and fabrics used in fast furniture contain dangerous chemicals like heavy metals, formaldehyde, neurotoxins, and carcinogens, all of which shouldn’t be inside your home with you, let alone seeping into the earth and groundwater as the pieces decay in landfills. Plus, the more waste that’s rotting in a landfill, the more methane is produced, a greenhouse gas that’s much more potent than CO2.
Fast Furniture Shipping Emissions and Climate Change
Outside of landfill waste, the shipping emissions associated with fast furniture also contribute to climate change. Many cheap furniture pieces created today use materials sourced from tropical areas of the world. This contributes to deforestation, and it also means the furniture is shipped at least twice—once to get the materials from the tropical areas to the manufacturer, and again to get the final piece to the consumer. And that’s in a perfect world. In reality, the supply chain usually has a few more stops than that.
Oftentimes, these required stops mean shipping globally, which means longer shipping times and more shipping emissions. This increases fast furniture’s carbon footprint exponentially—ships, planes, trains, and trucks all require fossil fuels to run and sending particleboard around the world definitely requires more than one tank of gas.
The next time you’re shopping for furniture and have to get it shipped from overseas, keep this in mind: If the global shipping industry were a country, it would be the sixth-largest emitter of greenhouse gases in the world, falling between Japan and Germany.
How to Reduce the Negative Impacts of Fast Furniture
The number one way you can help reduce the negative impacts of fast furniture is to not buy it. We realize this is easier said than done, especially with the affordability of fast furniture and the reality of many of us living as renters and moving often. The good news is, there are other ways you can help mitigate fast furniture’s effects on the environment.
5 Steps You Can Take Against Fast Furniture
- Know where your furniture was made.This is a big one. Across the globe, we’re going through deforestation, but it’s mostly happening in tropical areas. If you buy furniture that’s sourced and made in the US, you can usually purchase knowing you’re not contributing to deforestation—but, of course, do your research first. Plus, shopping locally or USA-made means a shorter supply chain and fewer shipping costs and emissions. (One fact to encourage you to research where your furniture was made: an IKEA company is a large private landowner of primeval forests in Romania, a country in Europe with rampant illegal logging, and known for cutting down 200-600 years old trees.)
- Fix what’s broken.If possible, try to fix what’s broken instead of throwing out the whole piece of furniture. A broken leg or handle can be easy to fix on your own with some simple supplies from your local hardware store, and it’s often a cheap repair for a craftsman. (Be sure to seek out a local one to avoid shipping anything.) If your furniture is scratched or no longer matches your space, you’d be surprised what a fresh coat of paint can do!
- Make your furniture work for you. Seek out pieces that are multifunctional. Not only does this allow you to use your space more efficiently, it also gives you the opportunity to rearrange and refresh your space when different needs arise without having to throw out and buy new.
- Let your furniture grow with you. Instead of rushing to fill your space immediately, take your time and buy pieces as you come across them in your daily life. This will give you time to feel out your space and what it calls for, and it will also allow you to find better pieces you can confidently pass down or sell when the time comes.
- Look for FSC Certification. The Forest Stewardship Council only certifies pieces that use wood from FSC-certified forests, meaning they’re sustainably managed with responsible cultivation and harvesting methods, so you know you’re not destroying a habitat by purchasing that new coffee table.
At the end of the day, take the time to truly consider if the few bucks saved on an IKEA couch or Amazon side table are worth the negative environmental and economic impacts. Your planet, home, and wallet (and future generations) will thank you.