Furniture waste is the focus of two reports released this month. UK think tank RSA and recycling and waste company SUEZ published Rearranging the Furniture, which takes a design-focused approach to bulky waste reduction, increased reuse of furniture, and development of a circular economy. And the Furniture Re-use Network’s (FRN) new report, Commercial Retailers: Their Impact on the UK Reuse Sector, discusses the impacts of FRN partnerships with major furniture and electrical equipment retailers.
As RSA points out, 80 percent of potential environmental implications and reuse options occur at the concept design stage, across all products. Bulky waste’s additional waste management challenges are created by its large size; it is either left outside and exposed to weather, or cut up into pieces for transport to the landfill.
RSA says that 1.6 million tonnes of bulky waste — 42 percent of which is furniture — is sent to landfill every year, despite over 50 percent of it being reusable. The report calls for extended producer responsibility (EPR) on the part of manufacturers, saying they should work closely with local authorities to facilitate the collection of bulky products to ensure they are sent back to manufacturers for reuse. It asserts that this would enable manufacturers to simultaneously save on costs and boost employment. The RSA recommends an increased landfill tax that could be used to fund reuse collection and waste prevention services, and a ban on sending bulky waste to landfill.
“Despite sitting above recycling in the waste hierarchy, reuse does not get nearly the same attention as recycling does,” says David Palmer-Jones, chief executive officer of the Recycling and Recovery UK division at SUEZ. “The opportunities to make more of the products we discard are huge - but it needs a concerted and coordinated push from product designers, policymakers and waste management service providers.”
Meanwhile, the FRN has managed over 20 partnerships with retailers over its four years in operation in pursuit of its mission to alleviate poverty and tackle climate change. Through commercial FRN take-back schemes, over 1 million households have been helped and low-income UK households have saved £382 million on essential goods thanks to reused items. The schemes connect retailers and re-use members, which facilitates donations and saves retailers the cost of disposal.
FRN CEO Craig Anderson said, "We need to connect and direct the vision and ideas of the theorists to the reality of the actions of practitioners in local communities. Through our FRN take-back schemes we have found corporate retailers looking to reduce their waste and have married this with the reuse sector's growing demands of meeting the needs of their communities. The social, economic and environmental impacts brought about by the FRN take-back schemes are proof of our sector's importance in achieving a circular economy in our society today.”
The report highlights three major partnerships’ achievements from last year. Through FRN and other associated organizations, IKEA provided 2,818 pre-owned sofas and 3,433 beds, which saved UK households over £1,188,700.
"At IKEA, we know our customers want to live more sustainably at home, and we believe that they should not have to spend more money or time doing so,” said Joanna Yarrow, Head of Sustainability at IKEA UK & IE. “This is why our partnership with FRN is so vital in achieving our aim to help reduce waste at home.”
The reuse and repair of electrical items and WEEE products from Dixons Carphone and DHL Envirosolutions take-backs helped over 12,000 low income households, while take-backs by retailer John Lewis collected 254 tonnes of furniture, preventing over 125 tonnes of CO2 emissions. Across all FRN schemes, over 78,000 items of furniture and electronics were donated to impoverished people in the UK in 2014.
These reports are the latest research to support the business case for transition to a circular economy in the UK and wider European Union. Earlier this year, the Ellen MacArthur Foundation released a vision for a circular European economy in anticipation for the European Commission’s “circular economy package,” set to release by the end of 2015.
Interested in designing an aspect of the circular economy yourself? The Cradle to Cradle Product Design Challenge, a global competition for student and professional designers, is accepting submissions until December 1.