"According to United States EPA estimates, up to 8.5 million tons, or 17 billion pounds, of office assets end up in US landfills annually." - "Another Solution for Diverting Furniture Waste from Landfill," Waste360
Consumers of fast furniture know that each piece rarely lasts more than a few years. Three hundred dollar sofas their shape quickly. Fifty dollar armchairs lose the comfort of their cushions rapidly. The veneers of hundred dollar coffee tables chip, peel and melt after everyday contact. Fast furniture typically cannot stand up to wear and tear the way more expensive, more solidly made furniture can. This is particularly because it is made cheaply, quickly and with poor quality materials. In other words, fast furniture exists for a semester away in a college dormitory or for the renter constantly moving from apartment to apartment. It is meant to be tossed out and replaced each time it falls apart or each time the owner moves on.
Disposal of cheap fast furniture often occurs -- whether that disposal is for good reasons, bad reasons or pure necessity. Consumers might decide to get rid of fast furniture imbued with toxic chemicals that off-gas after time. They might choose to slowly replace these products in an effort to move towards more sustainable, longer-lasting furniture pieces. On the other hand, they might simply be forced to toss out fast furniture pieces after they break or degrade. Regardless, all consumers hoping to get rid of fast furniture should have the option to do so responsibly. They should be able to forgo as many contributions to landfills as possible. Follow below for a list of three ways to dispose of furniture without hurting the planet.
3 Ways to Dispose of Furniture Without Hurting the Planet
"There are a number of organizations that will pick up furniture that's in resalable condition — i.e., it's not falling apart and doesn't have major stains or tears." - Chanie Kirschner, "5 Ways to Get Rid of Unwanted Furniture," Tree Hugger
Donating furniture is an excellent choice for unwanted furniture disposal, though it is not always possible or ethical. Ethical concerns may arise if the original buyer feels that the piece of furniture off-gasses or is otherwise unsafe for others to use. Donating furniture might also not be possible for a number of reasons. The pieces the owner plans to sell might be in too poor condition. Local donation centers may not be interested in such products or may be unable to accept them. The latter has actually been one of many unfortunate side effects of the COVID-19 pandemic. We explain this in our recent Living Deep article “Temporary Minimalism Reinforces American Throw-Away Culture.” We note that “in 2020, most donation centers have closed...and yard sales have been disallowed” due to health concerns.
Organizations Offering Furniture Donation Pickup
However, donating is a great option when possible in your area and when each piece of furniture is in fair condition. There are a number of charities and donation centers around the country that offer free pickup at the home of the donor. They even do so for bulky items like sofas, armchairs and dining sets. A recent MyMove article outlines eight such organizations that will happily pickup and transport donated furniture after an appointment is made. Both local and national organizations offer the service. These include branches of “GreenDrop, the Salvation Army, Habitat for Humanity, Goodwill, Pick Up Please, Furniture Bank, The Arc and AMVETS.” GreenDrop and Pick Up Please provide pickup services for donors in select states across the US. However, all others listed are available in each state and in several other countries across the globe. Susan Finch adds a few more organizations to the list in her article “Free Furniture Pick Up w/ These Charities” for Apartment List. Finch recommends considering the American Kidney Fund, Donation Town, Housing Works and the National Furniture Bank Association. The latter two help those experiencing or transitioning out of homelessness.
Determining Whether to Donate Furniture
To determine whether your furniture should be donated, Susan Finch recommends passing it through a quick checklist. Finch notes that all donated furniture should “be free of stains, rips, and other damage.” Donors should be very upfront with whichever charity, donation center or organization they wish to donate to ahead of time. This will allow the group to decide whether the piece is appropriate before they arrive to pick it up. Any furniture items that have been recalled or which you feel are dangerous or unhealthy -- in part or in total -- should not be donated. If at all possible, avoid leaving the pieces outside your home unsupervised unless asked to do so by the organization for social distancing purposes. Instead, wait with your furniture until the delivery group has arrived.
"Hosting a yard sale is a great way to declutter and earn extra cash, but reselling an item that has been recalled—whether or not you’re aware that it has been—is illegal and exposes you to a risk of being sued." - Consumer Product Safety Commission spokeswoman Patty Davis quoted in the Consumer Reports article "Don't Sell Recalled Products at Your Yard Sale"
Many of the concerns surrounding donating furniture -- particularly fast furniture -- also applicable to selling used furniture. Any furniture sold to a new owner should be in good condition. It is not in good condition, its poor condition should be expressed to the potential buyer in explicit terms. For instance, a buyer might be interested in an old stool with a crumbling leather seat in order to restore or upcycle it. This buyer might be interested in an item in poor condition. In short, any second -- or third -- hand furniture item should be marketed honestly.
Legal and Ethical Concerns in Selling Used Furniture
As mentioned above, owners should avoid seeking sales of furniture that has been recalled or might be harmful to the new owner. Proceeding with these sales would likely be unethical and could be potentially dangerous. It could even place the original owner in legal hot water. A 2017 Consumer Reports article dissuades resellers from doing so, quoting Consumer Product Safety Commission spokeswoman Patty Davis. Davis explains that “reselling an item that has been recalled...is illegal and exposes you to a risk of being sued.” The article continues in its warning, noting that “in the event that someone is injured by a recalled product you sold and pursues a civil or even a criminal action against you, you could be held responsible and have to pay damages or face other penalties.”
Research Each Item to Ensure Safety
Even seemingly innocuous products you might have no reason to suspect are dangerous may have proven so and been recalled. For instance, the MALM dresser from IKEA has caused the deaths of eight children, as reported by Debra Goldschmidt in her article for CNN. The furniture giant recently reached a $46m settlement with the family of a child suffocated by the dresser, reports the BBC. In March of 2020 -- writes Tricia L. Nadolny for USA Today -- IKEA recalled its MALM look alike KULLEN dresser. According to Nadolny, “IKEA has now recalled more than 18.1 million dressers in the United States alone." This number includes "820,000 three-drawer Kullen dressers sold since 2005.” The MALM and KULLEN dressers were recalled for structural instability issues. The dressers were prone to falling over without being screwed into the wall. However, some furniture pieces and other household materials have been recalled for unsafe chemical off-gassing. For instance, Lumber Liquidators, “one of the largest flooring retailers in the country, [recently] agreed to pay a $33-million penalty for misleading investors." They left out important health information "about formaldehyde-laced laminate flooring from China,” writes Rachel Weiner in her recent article for The LA Times. Long story short, potential sellers should research each piece if possible to determine whether the piece is safe to sell.
Ways to Sell Used Furniture
In his article for The Spruce, Abe Abbas outlines how to sell used furniture quickly, effectively and ethically sell used furniture. When deciding on a resale price, Abbas recommends doing your research -- just as you would to determining the piece’s safety. Abbas suggests “consulting pricing guides at the library or online” when selling “antiques or valuable collections” of furniture. However, if your furniture is a newer piece -- potentially an inexpensive item -- Abbas recommends looking up how much it sold for. You should also research “who manufactured it, how long you have used it and its present condition.” Be rational and reasonable when pricing each piece. Each seller should “take into account any stains, scratches, tears, or dents.” They should also consider that pieces priced appropriately will likely sell faster.
Platforms for selling furniture include old-fashioned yard and garage sales, as well as social media platforms, resale websites and apps. Facebook Marketplace and Craigslist are go-to options for many, but a number of apps also exist for selling furniture. In her article “5 Apps That Make Selling Your Furniture Super Easy” for Apartment Therapy Kelsey Mulvey offers a few options. For antiques or vintage furniture, Mulvey suggests applying to Chairish, which “has a carefully curated selection hand-picked [and approved] by the team.” EBTH is also a great resource for more valuable pieces, but can have expensive shipping and handling fees for buyers. For newer pieces, Mulvey recommends choosing either Apartment Therapy Bazaar, LetGo or 5Miles.
Furniture that is beyond hope of saving for resale or donation and reuse can often be recycled. Recycling often requires a bit of work -- including disassembling the piece in some cases. However, it is a far better alternative to landfilling your used furniture. When determining if and how your furniture can be recycled, consider the advice offered in a recent article from LoadUp. The article notes that “furniture such as sofas, mattresses, and recliners contain parts that are easily recyclable." This means that “they can be taken apart for the pieces that can be recycled.” LoadUp notes that “materials such as wood, springs, metal parts, foam, fibers, and fabric" can all often be recycled in some way. Recycling furniture can be a lot of work, often deterring even the well-meaning from recycling rather than landfilling each piece. Thankfully, there are a few companies available that will take used furniture. They will break it down, recycle the parts that can be recycled while “properly disposing” of those that cannot. The LoadUp article also recommends contacting your city’s sanitation department. This is because “some cities and municipalities do offer pickup services for furniture and other bulky waste items, usually for a fee.” Broken or otherwise unusable furniture will then be “recycled by the local government’s solid waste department instead of dumped in a nearby landfill.”
By researching each piece of furniture you plan to dispose of and exploring the right avenue -- whether it be donation, resale or recycling -- your furniture will end up in the right place, far away from a landfill.