Fast Furniture – the devastating social, economic and environmental impact on Australia

There’s no denying the temptation of a $29 particleboard side table or a $129.00 Indonesian teak stool. But when you buy an imported or low cost piece of furniture, do you really know what you are investing in? Are you aware of the social, economic and environmental impact it has? It’s important to ask yourself these questions before making a purchase.

Unfortunately Australia is currently experiencing a surge in cheap furniture retailers, we shall not name them, but you know them well. They’ve taken what was once built to last and made it cheap and disposable.

Fast furniture is having a huge impact here in Australia and it’s not positive. But what is ‘fast furniture’? It’s a term commonly used to describe low cost, mass produced and poorly made furniture, ultimately resulting in a piece that has a short life cycle. Much of this furniture is imported from countries such as Indonesia, China and Portugal.

At RAW Sunshine Coast we’re passionate about not only building beautiful, functional, quality made furniture but also placing an emphasis on sustainability through reducing our impact on the environment and supporting the skills of local craftspeople.  

To us, ‘fast furniture’ is a dirty word. Not only is it having a detrimental effect on our industry but also socially, economically and environmentally. We hope to shed a little light on some of the many issues our country is facing so that consumers can make an informed decision next time they buy a piece of timber furniture.

unsustainable furniture ends up in landfill

Waste  

Have you noticed the growing mountains of furniture on kerbsides and in landfill? Constantly changing interior trends, low cost materials and poor workmanship can be commonly attributed to Australia’s growing fast furniture waste problem (Queensland’s Waste Reduction and Recycling Strategy 2010-2020).

According to an article on furniture waste by Handkrafted, on average each Sydney household disposes of around 24kg of wooden furniture per year, comprising about one-third upholstered and two-thirds other wooden furniture. This is the equivalent of 800,000 three-seater sofas, 1.65 million dining tables, 3.4 million coffee tables or 6.85 million chairs, thrown away by Sydney households every year. These figures only represent Sydney and do not account for furniture taken directly to tips by businesses or households, nor do they account for illegal dumping which is a huge issue in itself.

The ABC’s War on Waste, recently reported that up to 85% of kerbside furniture won’t be recycled, with the vast majority heading straight to landfill (War on Waste – the Battle Continues, ABC, episode 2). #waronwasteAU

The poor quality of low cost furniture means that its lifespan is limited. As soon as leg begins to wobble or the surface becomes scratched, we throw it out to the kerb as its often difficult and too costly to repair. Resulting in both a waste of money and a waste of resources.

Deforestation

Another issue we can’t ignore is the source of wood used in the manufacturing of furniture imported from Indonesia. Rapid deforestation has been occurring, much of this loss is attributed to illegal logging driven by demand to supply the palm oil, paperand furniture manufacturing industries. According to the World Resources Institute (2018), Indonesia has the world’s 3rd largest tropical forest, yet, ranks 2nd in the world for tropical deforestation.Half of Sumatra’s forest cover has disappeared between 1985 to 2008, with its forest cover going from 50% to 25% according to the UNs Food and Agriculture Organisation.

Not only does this result in destruction of critical carbon stores, habitat loss for native wildlife, but also the devastating impact on the lives of millions of Indonesians who depend on the forests for food, shelter and their livelihoods.

If you decide to spend your money on imported furniture from Indonesia, first check that it carries the SVLK Legal Wood Certification.The Indonesia Timber Legality Assurance System (SVLK) is an agreement between the European Union and Indonesia to help minimise the illegal logging, transportation, purchase and or sale of timber products from Indonesia. A Volunteer Partnership Agreement (VPA) allows companies who provide sustainable and environmentally friendly sourced materials to showcase their good wood habits.

Who made my furniture?

In Australia, fast furniture is directly impacting talented local furniture makers. Purchasing furniture that is manufactured in another country, means that you are supporting that counties economy and reducing local employment opportunities.

When you buy low cost imported furniture it is also important to consider under what standards and conditions was it made. Can you be certain that it was ethically sourced and manufactured? Was a fair price paid for the piece? Were safe working conditions provided to the artisan and was any child labour involved? These are questions that you need to ask the retailer before making a purchase. Looking for pieces carrying the Fairtrade Trademark is a good start.

Toxic Materials

Formaldehyde is a colourless gas with a pungent, irritating odour. It can be present in resins that act as a glue in the manufacture of pressed wood products. Pressed wood products include products such as plywood, MDF and particleboard and are used for furniture, cabinets, shelving and countertops.

Australian standards limit the amount of formaldehyde that can be released from reconstituted wood-based panels and flooring (National Industrial chemical Notification and Assessment Scheme, Department of health, Australian Government), however imported pressed wood and furniture doesn’t carry the same stringent regulations.

Another important thing to consider is the finishes used on the final piece of furniture or joinery. Many of these may be single or 2 PAC polyurethane that is not certified as food safe. This is particularly important for furniture items like dining tables and kitchen benchtops.

 

At this stage, you’re probably reconsidering that $79 white melamine bookshelf purchase from the store with the faceless owner and we wouldn’t blame you. As a local furniture maker, we think it’s important to highlight the issues facing our industry. We encourage you as a consumer to educate yourself so that you can make informed decision when making your next furniture purchase.

Now that we’ve provided you with a glimpse into the ugly world of fast furniture, we’d like to provide you with an alternative – locally made solid timber furniture. There are many significant benefits when buying furniture from a local manufacturer in Australia.

Australian made timber furniture

Benefits of investing in locally made timber furniture

At RAW Sunshine Coast, our aim to create carefully considered designs that are timeless, functional and quality built by local tradespersons utilising sustainable materials.

We like our timber suppliers, are committed to our forests, our community and our future. All of our timber is sustainably sourced from local suppliers and is Forest Stewardship Certified (FSC), with a traceable chain of custody. This ensures environmentally appropriate, socially beneficial, and economically viable forest management. Find out more at https://ic.fsc.org/en/what-is-fsc.

Solid timber is a beautiful natural material and unlike its cheaper counter parts like veneers, it can be re-sanded and refinished at any time during its life to maintain the timbers natural beauty. This makes solid timber an ideal material for furniture.

We take positive steps towards reducing our impact on the environment through measures such as repurposing our waste. This includes sawdust for garden mulch, horse tables and chicken coupes and many of our timber off-cuts are donated to local Men’s Sheds.

Our timber furniture and benchtops are finished with an eco-friendly wood finish called Osmo. This food-safe approved oil/wax finish is made up of natural ingredients including sunflower, soya, lin- seed and thistle oils.

Our furniture designs are carefully considered. They are functional and timeless, with clean simple lines to ensure they will not date and outlast any short lived interior design trends. We want our creations to be passed down to future generations, not sent to landfill like the cheap inferior pieces.

At RAW Sunshine Coast, we aim to be an employer of choice. We proudly support local talent by employing trade qualified furniture makers, we pay our staff above award wages, we are family friendly, offer flexible working hours and ensure a safe and positive working environment for our team.

We are strong believers of buy quality, buy once. Our furniture is built to last by our team of highly skilled and experienced furniture makers who have an enormous amount of knowledge when it comes to working with timber. They understand timbers natural movement and employ correct joinery to allow for this. When you purchase a quality made piece of timber furniture from RAW Sunshine Coast, it means that you are investing in a piece that will last you a lifetime.

We also specialise in custom made pieces, meaning that you can get exactly what you need. This means no time wasted spent searching for something stock standard to make do, which you’ll often end up disposing of as it doesn’t fit your needs.

For added peace of mind, when you have a piece made by RAW Sunshine Coast you can be assured that our furniture is covered by a manufactures warranty. Though we are very confident in the quality of our products, our experts are just a call away, if you ever encounter an issue or need advice on care and maintenance.

Making a purchase from a local furniture manufacturer like RAW Sunshine Coast can have such a positive impact. You may have to save your penny’s for a little bit longer to get your dream dining table or timber bookshelf, but that extra expense will be worth it. Not only will you be the owner of a beautiful, quality built piece, but you’ll have the added knowledge that it was crafted from sustainably sourced timber, provided employment to a talented local furniture maker and in turn supporting their family and with a little bit on love and care you’ll have a piece that isn’t destined for landfill, but instead has a long life cycle and can be handed down to future generations.

So next time you walk into a fast furniture store and are tempted to make a purchase, take a moment to do the math and consider the negative social, economic and environmental impacts that purchase might also carry. The low price tag may seem like a good idea at the time, but if you had to replace that piece of furniture every few years, it adds up and you’ll probably end up spending more than what you’d initially spend on a good quality piece of furniture that is built to last you decades.