Zero Waste Moving Guide, Part II: Furniture & Home Goods
WHAT IS IT
Basically any of your home furnishings that don't have a plug (those that DO have a plug are addressed in a separate post!): dressers, mattresses, chairs, carpets, etc.
WHY IT’S IMPORTANT
Furniture is, frankly, difficult to recycle. It's also difficult and/or environmentally costly to get rid of because of its bulky size, its chemical contaminants (like fire retardants, adhesives, and paints/varnishes), and its non-biodegradable components like foam. Throwing away any piece of furniture should only be considered as an absolute last resort if none of the below options are available to you. Plenty of folks enjoy repairing and upgrading old furniture to give it new life. Even Ikea, whose business model depends on a steady demand for their inexpensive, trendy home goods, wants us to stop equating cheap with disposable.
WHERE DOES IT GO?
This depends on the material. Metal is the most readily recyclable furniture material, and will be melted down and used again in a variety of applications. Solid wood can be chipped for landscaping mulch, and some plastics and fabrics can be recycled into reusable bags, new furniture, cloth rags, etc.
I. RESELL —
Craigslist is probably the most well-known platform for this, but my husband and I found this a frustrating platform to work with: over and over again people who said they were on their way over right now never showed up. We did successfully sell a few things, but honestly we had much better luck just posting stuff on...
Facebook — friends and acquaintances typically show up when they say they will. As the more active facebooker of the two of us, my husband just posted stuff directly on his page. If you strike out there, or, if like me, you're not very active and no one will see your posts, their Marketplace is worth a try.
II. DONATE —
Your local Goodwill is a safe bet as they will accept most home goods and furniture (except mattresses), but if you’re unsure about something, call ahead.
Furniture Bank Association of America keeps a list of furniture banks across the country, that “collect donations of gently used furniture and home furnishings, and provide them at little or no cost to families struggling financially to furnish their own homes.”
Wire Hangers – most dry cleaners will take back wire hangers for reuse. If your local dry cleaners are curmudgeony, scrap metal recyclers will definitely take them (see METAL section below for more info on this).
III. RECYCLE* —
*In most cases, furniture and home goods are definitely not the easiest things to recycle, so consider recycling as a distant third to option to reselling and donating.
MATTRESSES — Mattresses provide a trifecta of frustration on moving day: they're heavy, floppy, and difficult to grab onto. Perhaps that's one reason why we Americans send 50,000 of them to our landfills every DAY, according to the Mattress Recycling Council. That's 18.25 million mattresses every year, which is a real bummer for a couple reasons. Not only are they just as awkward for your trash haulers to deal with as they are for you and whomever you've roped into helping you move, but more importantly, most mattress components are actually recyclable, so throwing it out represents all sorts of missed opportunities. Because of this, many municipalities have recycling systems set up in order to help divert them from the landfill. The aptly named Bye Bye Mattress will help you find recycling options in your area.
CARPETS — Carpets are notoriously difficult to recycle, but Carpet America Recovery Effort is making it easier. They're not in every city yet, but they're expanding their services throughout the U.S. each year.
BOOKS —Not technically furniture or home goods, but for the record because I didn't know, No, you can't put books into your curbside bin (oops). Some municipalities will offer book recycling at their recycling centers, or during specific recycling events held by their public works department.
MISCELLANEOUS — Recycling just about all other types of furniture is complicated because each piece often contains a mixture of different types of materials, some of which are recyclable and some of which are not.
If you've got the room in your budget, the lowest-waste option is probably to contact a responsible hauling company like Junk King, which has franchise locations all over the U.S., knows the local regulations, and is familiar with the used furniture market and recycling services available in the area. For a fee, they will pick up and distribute all of the stuff you don't want, and distribute it to places where it will be reused, refurbished, recycled, or (as a last resort) trashed. I've never used their services personally, but their mission is to send as little of your stuff to the landfill as possible, which is something I can get behind.
If your budget falls more into the DIY-recycler category, here are some notes by category:
- WOOD — Most wooden furniture today is made out of inexpensive particleboard or chipboard, which is tainted with chemical adhesives and is therefore not recyclable. Solid wood furniture, cutting boards, etc. can be mulched by some recyclers, but many won't accept wood that's been treated with wood stain, varnish, or paint, so you'll want to double check what's available in your area.
METAL — According to Earth911, anything that is at least 50% metal is definitely worth recycling with your local scrap metal recycler, which may even pay you by the pound for your unwanted metal goods. Pro tip: even if the item is less than 50% metal, tinker with it for a bit to see if you can easily remove the metal parts from the non-metal ones (such as the rings of a 3-ring binder) for recycling. Why recycle scrap metal? First of all, it's one of the only things you can get paid to recycle, and second of all, metals are finite resources—they require a boatload of energy to produce, and ecosystems are destroyed in the process of mining them from the earth. The more we reuse, the less we have to extract.
GLASS — Glass furniture is not recyclable.* Neither are any of the other glass or glass-like things that I'm totally guilty of having thrown in the recycling bin at one point or another in my life, like:
Fancy glass vases
Glass drinking cups (there are some exceptions, but it's uncommon)
Windshields (also some exceptions, but very uncommon)
Or basically any type of glass other than the soda lime glass found in food and beverage container bottles.
*The reason for this lack of recyclability is that most other types of glass have contaminants in them which alter their melting points, and they can therefore wreak havoc on recycling machines, which are built for recycling soda lime glass.
PLASTIC — Furniture and laundry bins made from virgin Polypropylene (aka PP, aka #5 plastics) can often be recycled at your municipal recycling center or at specific recycling events held by your town or city. Check your city's public works website to see what options are available near you. High Density Polyethylene (aka HDPE, aka #2 plastics) furniture is likely made with plastic that has already been recycled and likely can't be recycled again due to property changes the polymer undergoes during the first round of recycling.
Know of any other recycling resources, or have questions about a type of furniture or material I left off my list? Comment below!