Recently, I helped a family member downsize his house. One of the categories that needs to be addressed is home furnishings. Unfortunately, not all furniture is the same, and not all are made with recycling in mind.
I’m sure as you look around you’ll see wood, plastic, metal, and fabric furniture. These mixed materials, according to interior designers, give texture and interest to the living space. However, they present a challenge when it comes time to get rid of furniture.
This furniture waste is called f-waste and is often not taken into account, because it is not generated often, like household waste. According to the EPA in 2017, approximately 12.2 million tons of f-waste was generated, 80% of which went to landfill. This figure does not include carpets or rugs that have been discarded. A study in the UK found that a third of people threw away usable furniture rather than selling or donating it.
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When thinking about furniture disposal, consider the three Rs: reduce, reuse and recycle. The first R of reduction is difficult, because furniture is an investment and is not easily reduced as one might with paper products. Yet, just as with “fast” fashion, where clothing styles change from year to year, furniture is produced quickly and inexpensively, with the intention of frequent redecorating. It is the opposite of solid wood furniture that has been passed down, and today we consider them antiques.
Perhaps the second R of reuse can be accomplished more easily. Consider donating to a local thrift store or charity to resell to further support their mission. Call ahead to see if they can use the item, and they can even pick it up from you. Some have had success selling locally through social media or garage sales, or offering on Freecycle. Do not sell or give away furniture that has come into contact with bedbugs. These items should be buried without thinking twice.
When donating or selling furniture, make sure it no longer contains personal items. Check drawers for objects stuck under or behind them. Check sofas or chairs for loose change by removing cushions. I suspect we can all tell a story about finding money and jewelry in places we would never have thought to look!
If you have furniture that is mostly metal and doesn’t have much fabric or other materials, consider taking it to a local junkyard for cash. Generally, outdoor furniture is made of metal and can be recycled. It’s the third R: recycling.
Although it may seem that wooden furniture could be broken down and burned, this is not recommended. Solid wood furniture most likely contains paint or varnish which is harmful when burned. Newer furniture is not made from solid wood, but from fiberboard or particleboard that is glued or laminated together using potentially toxic chemicals and plastics. When burned, these chemicals can become dangerous.
Unfortunately, furniture is not built with recycling in mind. It often costs more to separate valuable materials than they are worth. For example, there is a market for scrap leather; however, it is difficult to separate the leather from the foam padding, which makes the leather undesirable.
While most furniture will end up in the landfill, taking up valuable space, try to think about how you might dispose of furniture when looking to improve it in your home.
Finally, the Cayuga Recycles partners are gearing up to announce their fall household hazardous waste collection event. When I learn the date, I will share it, along with how to register for the event. In the meantime, start collecting and organizing all materials for proper disposal. The Cayuga County website has information to help you get started at cayugacounty.us/705/Disposal-of-Household-Hazardous-Waste.
Judy Wright is the senior agricultural specialist for Cornell Cooperative Extension in Seneca County. For more information, visit senecacountycce.org or call (315) 539-9251 ext. 109.