22 million pieces of furniture are dumped in the UK each year.
Covid-19 lockdowns triggered a surge in interest for cheap trend-led homewares with sales soaring by 42% in the first half of 2020, according to the Office of National Statistics.
During 2021, 50% of Londoners and 45% of young people threw away good quality furniture that could have been reused or recycled. At the same time 185,000 sofas went to landfill.
Kicking back on the couch has never been more fraught.
Whilst consumers are spending billions importing anonymous low-cost furniture bought online, Councils are faced with spending millions disposing of the mass-produced desks, bookcases, and storage units, furiously bought during lockdown which are now clogging up municipal landfills.
Like Fast fashion (cheap, trendy, ‘wear once or twice and then discard’) fast furniture is the new fast fashion – relatively inexpensive, one-season, disposable furnishings designed to last anything from 6 months to 5 years and then to be dumped.
Each year Amercians throw out more than 12 million tonnes of furniture creating mountains of wood, metal and plastic solid waste that has grown by 450 percent since the 1960’s waste. The majority ends up in public landfill destined to be either buried or burnt.
But it’s not always been this way. 79% of British people aged over 55 don’t discard furniture. Lack of choice, personal values and financial limitations are thought to be some of their reasons why.
- Does low car ownership mean that nowadays Londoners and young people dump more furniture?
- Do current day cheap finance deals play a part?
- Does housing size, tenure, working at home and increased mobility impact our buying behaviours?
- Do moving and storage costs make it cheaper to ‘dump’ what we have and just buy new?
- Does social media and convenience create unsustainable furniture fads?
I don’t know the answers to those questions (yet!) but fast furniture, like consumerism, is an ‘elephant in the Local Government room’.
Amazon, the worlds largest retailer, now has two private-label furniture brands. According to research by Next Move the furniture e-commerce market was worth more than $27 billion in 2021 and is projected to reach more than £30 billion by 2030. All of this could eventually end up at the Councils landfill door.
But problems remain. Right now, in the UK 1 million people are facing eviction with 500,000 behind on their rent. One UK household becomes homeless every 4 minutes. Little wonder there are tables and chairs stacked up outside front doors.
I understand, first-hand, that furniture is a moving and financial burden. I relocated from Australia to the UK in the pandemic. I’ve spent 16 months & £6,000 shipping and storing my furniture when I could have thrown it away – saving a lot of money, stress, and guilt.
Conversely, I was part of the Queensland Government Community Recovery in 2018 after Cyclone Debbie. Many families lost everything. It demonstrated to me our collective inability to change in a crisis and need for systems to redistribute furniture from those who don’t want it to those who do.
Fast furniture is capricious. Whilst consumers are being encouraged to repair, resell, donate, or even return products they no longer want or use the reality and practicalities may often be quite different.
As our cities change with a focus on small high-density homes with little storage, car free living and smarter technology we need to understand why renters and homeowners do what they do and how we can tackle the fast furniture crisis.
The impacts of discarded furniture and the cyclical ‘purchase it, use it, throw it’ trend is a challenge for even the most environmentally and economically conscious people, but I reckon we should give it a go.
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