Unlike the furniture our parents bought for their homes and offices, many modern furniture brands are designed to be disposable—a major advantage for a generation that demands flexibility and moves jobs and homes more than any before it.
But the convenience of expendable furniture comes at a significant cost: we’re throwing out more of it than ever before, with an environmental impact that is startlingly large yet largely invisible.
By some estimates, Americans throw away 110 million pieces of furniture every year, and according to the Environmental Protection Agency, furniture is the least likely item in a house to be recycled. In 2008, only one-tenth of 1% of discarded furniture ever made it to a recycling facility. In recent years, even brand-name household furniture companies have come under fire for their unsustainable production practices, leading giants like Ikea to implement new sustainability plans.
The result of this system is staggering environmental harm. American companies send almost 17 million pounds of office furniture to the dump annually, and according to a 2005 University of Michigan study, only 29% of that furniture can be recycled—better than household furniture, but still implying that upwards of two thirds of office furniture is incinerated or landfilled.
Re-use (or lack thereof) is also a huge problem: by most estimates, less than 10% of office furniture is used beyond the first office it inhabits.