Our Next Enviro Worry: Fast Furniture

ROXY ALLNUTT

Furniture waste has grown drastically in recent decades. I don't think we are addressing these issues enough.

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11 JUL - 2022

Fast fashion has been the antithesis of sustainability for years, with eco-conscious customers preaching that we all stop. However, upon looking at the large piles of furniture left on my curb, I can’t help but think that fast furniture is an alarming concern that we must raise.

Rather than paying to have a large piece of furniture transported to your new home, it's often more cost-effective to throw out that old chair or couch and start fresh.

Fast furniture's environmental difficulties, like those of fast fashion, are strongly linked to ethical issues. Cheap labour, high wastage, and lower-quality goods made not to last. You can see why Gen Z (or anyone with a low income) love to shop at places like Kmart or The Warehouse, where the cheapest coffee table costs just $39. We are also suckers for hubs like AliExpress, the e-commerce giant known for its inexpensive knockoffs, as we are eager to ball on a budget.

It's said that 9 million tonnes of furniture are thrown away yearly. These cheap and convenient purchases are terrible investments of money. We have this shocking mentality when things break that we must replace rather than repair. But we need to wake up and see that it is inevitable when these items are simply shit.

Breaking down the issues with fast furniture comes down to our attitudes toward homeware spending, unethical labour, and waste.

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The Crisis

Fast furniture is the dominant business model that produces mass amounts of low-cost home décor at high speeds. Goods are generally made in low-income countries where labour is cheap. Putting underpaid workers and our environment at risk all so we can have couches filled with cushions fit for every occasion. The production of trending homewares is problematic for several ethical and environmental reasons. Still, our excessive consumption habits ultimately fuel it.

Generally speaking, the value of furniture has decreased since fast furniture began in the early 2010s. This has been compounded by the rise of social media and the accompanying culture that you cannot be seen in the same piece of clothing twice. We know this attitude with our home desks, art, coffee tables, even plant pots.

Our garages, second-hand stores, and landfills are full of furniture. At the same time, the environmental and ethical harm woven into them stays buried deep.

Locked-down & Restless

What's interesting is the enormous spike in homeware purchases over the lockdown period. The pandemic certainly heightened our drive to make our houses more comfortable and livable as we nested for longer periods than ever before. But as we live in a material world, many brands have responded to this with fresh home décor departments. Interior trends are cycling faster than ever. In our fast-paced, short-attention-span days, we're getting bored of what's in front of us more quickly. As our gaze flits between social media and our living quarters, we are programming our minds to continually up the ante.

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Looking around my room, as I was obliged to do during the pandemic, I discovered that I only had a hand-me-down desk and a second-hand wardrobe that wasn't purchased new.
It's tricky to admit how much we rely on rapid interiors. The fact that my nearest fast fashion merchant has pretty much everything I need just in its homeware department explains a lot. I would love to fill my home with high-quality, thrifted, or locally made goods, but while funds are tight and I'm not living in my forever home, I have always sufficed.

In a 2018 study, it was found that people feel good about spending money on expensive items as long as they are splurging for the right reasons. Buying luxury handbags and sunglasses can often feel selfish, so when consumers purchase costly things for their homes, they may feel more responsible and communal. Whether it's reasonable or not, I think we need to be smarter with our buying to start solving this issue. For example, instead of swooning over how cheap Kmart's rug collection is, I should think about what rug I'd like to follow forever instead of suiting my current aesthetic.

Buying timeless pieces can be a bit of a guessing game. Who knows, I may hate my collection of terracotta plant pots in 5 years' time. But, if the day does come when I want a refresh on my pots, I need to think really hard about whether or not they can be repurposed, gifted, refurbished – just anything other than the skip.
The Facebook group ‘Zero Waste in NZ!’ is a fab resource to go to when you are in a pickle about throwing things away. I wrote to the group recently asking for advice on repurposing my very old plastic shower curtain. Turns out some bloke 15 km away was looking for a semi-soft plastic sheet to use for a rain shelter on his farm. I cannot express how much of an eco-warrior I felt dropping that off to him knowing that I had just saved our landfills from one huge sheet of plastic and the thought of his little chickens getting a little cover up was too much!

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There is a dire need for public attention on this whole matter, so we aren't continuously manipulated into buying more and more. Instead, we must be encouraged to slow down, buy second-hand, repair, and cherish all these items that we currently own.

The link to a very wholesome and educational Facebook group
https://www.facebook.com/groups/1742068422749288/

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Here are some second-hand furniture stores where you may find some gems in:

Royal Oak Traders
Junk and Disorderly
Whistle and Co
Retrovision
Online
Facebook Amrkteplace
Deisgner Wardobe Home

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Here’s where to go to fix your furniture:

Dovetail Restorations
Philip King Restorations
Kimata Repair Ltd

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