I’ve become quite addicted recently to a few Tik Tok and Instagram accounts that are all about upcycling furniture (try following #upcycledfurniture). I’ve never tackled a project myself (yet) but I’m mesmerised by the process and love seeing a good before and after. Thinking about it, my enjoyment is mainly because it feels so satisfying creatively but is also relatively guilt free as it is better for the environment than buying new. So to share this love of mine, I thought I’d outline the various reasons that furniture upcycling is so good for the environment.
Essentially upcycling is the process of taking old, worn out, damaged or just outdated furniture and turning it into something functional and – hopefully – beautiful. It just might involve a bit of repair, restoration, or repurposing to give it a new life, but it’s always going to be a better environmental outcome than recycling (which involves disassembling the piece down into materials and using those materials to buy something new) or sending them to landfill.
The first big advantage of upcycling is that it stops that piece of furniture from going to waste and that is truly a big advantage. Australians discard tonnes of furniture each year straight into landfill where it wastes resources, takes up lots of space and can cause significant greenhouse gases that contribute to climate change. That is absolutely the last thing we want.
The next big advantage is that by extending the life of existing furniture, we don’t need to expend the resources to make new furniture. This means we conserve natural resources like wood, metal, and textiles, we don’t draw on petrochemicals to make plastics and glues, and we don’t need to use all the material that would have been used for packaging, which is often plastic based. Natural resources are finite, so we want to conserve them as much as possible, plus extracting and processing them comes with other environmental impacts like pollution and deforestation.
If those two points aren’t enough, consider also that fewer new furniture purchases mean less energy consumption generally, all of which reduces our carbon footprint.
The icing on the cake is that it is an enjoyable, rewarding creative exercise. A rare one that not only doesn’t create waste but uses what would be considered waste and shifts our perspective on the value of older furniture. That’s a triple win.
One caveat, it needs to be acknowledged that a lot of modern furniture is inexpensive and poor quality. This makes it harder - but not impossible - to upcycle in a complete sense. Perhaps parts can be upcycled. Anything is better than it all ending up in landfill. If it is from IKEA, you might want to consider their buy-back programme for preloved, but clean and functional furniture.
For examples of how you can get started upcycling furniture on a budget, and potentially even make some money doing it, check out Planet Ark’s Senior Recycling Campaign Manager Alejandra Laclette’s Instagram account – @the.little.key. One way or another, landfill should be the absolute last option – because it really isn’t a viable option for the planet.