4 Reasons Why the Furniture Industry is Failing to Achieve Circular Economy
The demand for furniture has expanded dramatically during the last few decades. Fashion changes and cheaper production costs have made it simpler to market low-cost seasonal items. The problem of waste has been compounded by rising demand and shorter product life cycles.
The circular economy concept has the potential to solve the waste problem at its root. While this concept appears to be a promising solution to an issue that is only worsening with each passing year, the furniture business will have to overcome the following barriers to make it a reality.
Poor Design and Low-Quality Materials
The shift away from solid wood and metal furniture in favor of less expensive materials, which limits the opportunity for a successful second life, is likely the most significant cause of the rise in furniture waste. The poor materials in fast furniture offerings make them hard, if not impossible, to refurbish. Thus, dumping these worn-out, cheaply acquired furniture in landfills has become the norm for most users, and some don’t even realize it.
Repair and Refurbishing Costs Are High
Transport and labor expenses are high in many regions of the United States, making any considerable repair or refurbishing an impractical choice for families, especially if re-upholstery is necessary. If we are to make repair and refurbishing a viable option, economies of scale and economic incentives are required.
There needs to be a way to reduce the friction of refurbishing because simply shopping for new and cheap furniture pieces is relatively frictionless, making it a more enticing option for end-users.
The Rising Popularity of Fast Furniture
The fast furniture business is a multibillion-dollar industry growing at a rapid pace. It has become a pretty formidable opponent and a hot topic among environmentalists in recent years.
The term "Fast Furniture" refers to any mass-produced furniture sold at a lower cost than the average market price. This includes products such as sofas, tables, chairs, etc.
This particular type of furniture is available everywhere. They are effortless in their logistics and thus widely accepted over sustainable product offerings. Fortunately, companies like Interiorbeat aim to eliminate the friction when shopping for premium sustainable furniture to tip the scales.
The problem with fast furniture is that it has a very short lifespan of around 1-2 years, making it highly non-sustainable. Because of its meager cost, the consumer discards this furniture quickly and often without thinking twice about its impact on the environment.
Infrastructure For Collection and Reverse Logistics Is Limited
There are currently weak drivers and underinvestment in furniture takeback collection and logistics. In the furniture industry, producer accountability measures are not extensively implemented. In a report by Ellen MacArthur Foundation, more than two-thirds of businesses do not have an efficient collection and reverse logistics infrastructure in place.
As far as furniture is concerned, it costs about $200 to collect, sort, and transport one used piece of furniture for reuse or recycling. This doesn't even include the cost of remanufacturing the product or the cost of labor to make sure that each item is safe for reuse. With such high costs involved in collecting used furniture, it's hard to justify without significant financial support from both the public and private sectors.
Poor Customer Information
It is not enough to have a few companies on board the sustainability train as we are all part of the problem. As end-users, we need to be aware of the products we buy and how they were made, what might happen to them in the future, and how we can contribute to a better future for all. When we talk about structuring a circular economy for furniture, we need to first look at what happens behind the scenes.
The truth is that the furniture industry as a whole is not very eco-friendly. Most furniture items require a lot of raw materials and energy, which results in high levels of pollution. The more end-users are aware of these processes, the more they can proactively choose more sustainable brands and products.
The circular economy might just be the future of product design and development. While manufacturers can benefit from this new model in cost savings, improved brand perception, and sustainability, it's not as easy to get there as it seems. Furniture and home goods are industries that have been a bit slow to embrace the circular economy because of the reasons stated above. In time, perhaps we can see a significant improvement in the industry, but as always, awareness of the choke points is the first step.