The Environmental Benefits of Upcycling

In recent years, as the devastating effects of the climate crisis become manifest, conversations about sustainable living, the circular economy, and being more eco-friendly have taken centre stage. At ReFunk, we strive to enable our community to be kinder to the planet by focusing our efforts on furniture.

The furniture industry, in its current form, is destroying our environment. In the EU alone 10 million tonnes of furniture are discarded annually. Elsewhere, within the UK for example, statistics show that up to 22 million pieces of furniture are discarded in the region each year.

These figures are unsustainable in every sense of the word. Here at ReFunk, we searched for a solution to this untenable situation, hoping to play our part in eliminating furniture waste. Then, we stumbled upon upcycling.

What is upcycling exactly? Our definition goes something like this:

‘Upcycling: the process of transforming pre-loved furniture into a product perceived to be of greater quality, for its artistic or environmental value.’

For more on how we define upcycling, check out our blog post on the matter here!

But why is upcycling important? What are the benefits of upcycling furniture?

Today, we’re going to look at the environmental benefits of upcycling. If you’re interested in dipping your toe into the wonderful world of upcycling as a craftsperson, you can check out our blog post on the personal benefits of upcycling here.

So why is upcycling important to the environment?

Reduce: Upcycling reduces our reliance on harmful, synthetic materials.

Deforestation is not the only issue raised by furniture manufacturing. Many furniture companies rely heavily plastic and synthetic materials. These types of materials are often derived from fossil fuels, like oil and gas, which are huge contributors to global warming and the climate crisis for many different reasons.

The extraction of fossil fuels is harmful to the environment hugely detrimental to our environment, and can disrupt ecosystems irrevocably. What’s more, the processing of these resources releases large amounts of greenhouse gases into our atmosphere. And, finally, when these materials are discarded, they can take up to 200 years to decompose. From start to ‘finish’, the procurement, processing, and disposal of these materials causes problems for our planet.

By providing an alternative way to satisfy your furniture needs, upcycling alleviates our need to rely on these materials.

Reuse: Through the Reuse of existing furniture, Upcycling lessens the strain we put on natural resources by reducing the need for raw materials.

Every year, a devastating 10 billion trees are cut down worldwide without being replaced. Trees capture, absorb, and store greenhouse gases, and can even filter our water – they’re environmental superheroes, and it’s time we treated them as such. Unfortunately, the furniture industry puts a huge strain on our planet’s forests – as wood is one of the most frequently used raw materials in the furniture sector.

This is where upcycling comes in. Upcycling puts the Reduce, Reuse, Recycle mantra to good use. By breathing new life into wooden furniture that already exists, upcycling reduces the need to fell more trees. So, you get a beautifully reworked wooden coffee table for your living room and help fight against deforestation at the same time! What’s not to love!

Recycle: Upcycling prevents furniture from going to landfill.

Completing the reduce, reuse, recycle sequence, upcycling saves – often perfectly good – furniture being sent to landfill. With research from the EU showing that only about 10% of furniture is recycled, with the majority of furniture waste destined for landfill or incineration, it’s clear that there’s plenty of room for improvement on this one.

Although our furniture recycling habits are currently pretty poor, this is definitely a worthwhile effort – our research shows that with each piece of furniture upcycled with ReFunk, 30.54kg of CO2 equivalents are diverted from landfill!

Our calculations are based on a wooden Makore dresser (3.696 kgCO2eq. per kg for 10 kg), upcycled using water-based paint (2.261 per kg or 0.5 kg), packaged with bubble film (0.0841 per m2 for 1 m2), and transported via a large diesel car (0.2082 per vkm for 25 vkm). These calculations are also based on the projection that upcycling would prolong the lifespan of a 10-15-year-old Makore dresser by approx. 5-7 years.

Our choices in material serve to provide a broad generalisation of the variety of furniture and upcycling supply types there are, while also being conservative about our impact in an effort to avoid greenwashing. While we certainly have the greatest ambition to maximise our impact, honesty and transparency are incredibly important to us.

We’re a small company hoping to make a large impact on the environment. We hope you can join us on our journey.