The Upside of Upcycling
I love to breathe new life into old things. One of my favourite projects to work on is furniture. Over the past year I have been working on a few pieces I inherited or found. I thought by fixing them up nicely, people would want to buy them. Some people were interested but not at a value that covered my time and costs. Apparently there just isn’t much of a demand for recycled furniture in my area. But really, there should be.
So much furniture ends up in the landfill, it’s heartbreaking. Almost all older furniture can be either upcycled (new paint, new upholstery, new use) or recycled. Recently I saw a trend online where animal shelters were taking in old upholstered chairs for the kennels. A chair for dogs and cats to sit on that they could call their own. A fabulous idea that keeps the chairs out of the dump for a little longer. Considering how many couches end up at the end of driveways, you may think they are a lost cause but under all old fabric is wood and metal, both of which can be recycled. The fabric, depending on how far gone it is could also be washed, broken down and reused as stuffing for car furniture padding and insulation. Polyester, for all that it is evil, is easier to recycle than cotton. They just melt it down and re-spin it into new fibres.
But all of this takes time and money and we live in a disposable culture where new seems to be preferable. I still occasionally buy new things. Sometimes you just can’t find something old that will fit into your exact space. But as much as possible now I try to find a way to reuse what I have or to buy second hand. If it must be new, it has to be made out of a material that will either last or degrade naturally. A lot of modern furniture is made out of toxic materials (melamine and plastic). It is not made to last and therefore will end up a toxic mess in some landfill unless we can find new uses for it.
In select cities there are companies willing to put in time to recycle furniture and fabric but there has to be a market for it. They have to be able to resell it as something else. We have to be willing to purchase things that are recycled or have recycled content. How many people still insist on virgin paper for their printers or even their toilet paper. Recycled paper works just fine.
If you have to buy new furniture, really look into what that new piece is made out of. Is the wood FSC Certified (wood that has been grown and harvested in a sustainable manner), is it solid wood vs melamine or plywood, and is the fabric made from organic cotton, bamboo, or recycled polyester. Was it made locally or shipped a long distance. Ikea, the home of cheap furniture, has been pushing forward in making their products and production cycle more sustainable. West Elm, is another popular store that sells sustainable furniture and home products. It just takes a little more time to do some research but it is possible to shop for furniture sustainably. If you are into seriously eclectic, artisanal and recycled work, check out Retrofit or Die. His work is truly creative.
But keeping an open mind to buying second hand or reusing what you have is the most sustainable way to go. If you are not handy, there are people who will do custom work on furniture and cabinets. Seeing the potential in furniture that is a little rough or dated is the secret. Pinterest is a great place to get ideas. Some pieces shown there are works of art. The pictures in this post are all pieces I worked on. Some required reconstructive surgery, others just a coat of paint. My latest project was actually a complete repurpose. I got the idea from my fellow pinners. I took an old bed frame and converted into a garden bench. Total costs about $40 in wood. I used paint that I had on hand.
As I do love to play, I will continue to experiment with different recycling and finishing options, keeping them as eco-friendly as possible. You can follow my Upcycle Furniture Pinterest Board if you would like to see what keeps me inspired.
If you do need to get rid of your furniture look into your local area to see what your options are. In our area in Ontario, there are charities like Habitat for Humanity and their Re-store division and there is the Furniture Bank – a charity that specializes in furniture for people down on their luck as well as refugees. Some places are particular about what they will take but most offer pick up services.