Why your next upcycling project is helping the environment

Imagine that you’re sitting in your house right now, staring at that worn out piece of furniture - a console table, a chest of drawers, the dining table. You’ve been reading about this thing called “upcycling” and you’ve looked up YouTube videos of Annie Sloan and other furniture painters, using Chalk Paint® like a magic wand to turn pumpkins into golden carriages. 

You’re at a fork in the road. 

You can either get in the game and arm yourself with Brushes, cans of Chalk Paint® and Wax at Big Blue Trunk. Or you can...call that guy who helps you get rid of cumbersome things you don’t need (because selling it or donating it is just more work, argh).

But, before you get rid of that piece of furniture, consider this - your minor upcycling project can have a major environmental impact.

F-waste: as bad as it sounds

Furniture waste, known unflatteringly in the industry as “f-waste”, includes mattresses, bed frames, sofas, and all manner of wooden and other furniture. A staggering 12 million tons of furniture waste is thrown out each year in America alone. And because a lot of furnishings are made of mixed materials (wood, metal, plastic, glass), 80% of that ends up in landfills. 

Yes, that’s right. It isn’t just food waste, or “fast fashion” we have to reckon with. It turns out there is such a thing as “fast furniture” and it’s designed to fall apart, not become heirlooms. A lot of that fast furniture waste shot through the roof when IKEA went global and everyone suddenly owned a Billy bookcase or Kallax shelf. After a few years, it’s white, boring, covered in scuff marks and teetering a little. Off to the disposal truck it goes.

Now you might be thinking, lots of things can be recycled (just like fast fashion brand H&M now has a recycling program for all fabric materials), so what’s the fuss about? Remember that shocking figure about furniture waste? Only 0.3% of that gets recycled. Everything else sits there, destroying our planet. 

Upcycling vs Recycling

It isn't “either / or”. In an ideal world, you’d sort through your life and find things to compost, recycle, pass down to the kids (or friends) and upcycle. Every bit of your life would find its way to a better place and have negligible environmental impact. 

But the bottom line is, a lot more energy is required to recycle something, than to upcycle it. Basically, recycling means the item is broken down and made reusable. It’s a transformation, but one that experts have to undertake. It’s complicated. It takes resources and energy. 

Upcycling is something any of us, with a bit of patience and interest, can do. You breathe new life into furniture by repairing it, sanding it, reupholstering it, and painting it. That’s exactly what many furniture painters, including our team here at Big Blue Trunk, does. Every piece that is sent to us, leaves the store with a fresh lease of life.

Furniture that’s made of natural wood responds well to some sanding, prep work and love. Hinges can be fixed. Creaky bits can be sprayed with WD40. Worn out drawer handles or knobs can be replaced with quirky new ones (check ours out here).

But if that piece of furniture in your house is from IKEA, it feels like putting more money into painting it makes no sense. It’s made of particleboard and has a laminate finish. It’s dubiously glossy. The hardware doesn’t feel like it’ll last much longer. But it doesn’t have to be tossed out. We've seen some glorious IKEA hacks and transformations using Chalk Paint®.

Or you can rent your furniture out; you can sell it to someone who really needs it at a knock-out price. Better still, you can give it away for free or trade it using apps like OlioThere are options other than the landfill.

Even IKEA has gotten in on the game. They’ve launched a buy-back program in 30 countries. Since then, 39 million products have gotten a second lease of life. It has also committed to making all 10,000 of its furniture pieces from entirely recycled or renewable material. 

Taking the DIY Path

Let’s come back to you, dear reader, and that piece of furniture you’re looking at in your living room right now. Actually, it isn’t just one piece. There’s a lot of wooden furniture in your house. Lots of shades of brown. Some are recent purchases and others are heirlooms. Some have traveled with you from country to country; house to house. Others were picked up on a whim. The mish-mash is driving you nuts (we’ve heard many of you come into the store and tell us just this).

Then there’s your friend and she has a completely different problem. She’s looking for some new pieces but doesn’t want to spend lots of money buying new furniture (what if we move? What if we don’t need it in a few years?). She still wants something that's aesthetically pleasing though.

Well, there's plenty of vintage second hand pieces available on Carousell or Marketplace, just waiting for a new home and a loving makeover.

You could both be in for an incredible journey if you decide to pick up the brush, choose some paint colours and give those pieces (your old ones, your friend’s vintage purchases), a fresh coat of paint. Throw in some stencils, decor transfers or metal leaf and you've got yourself an elevated upcycling project!

Invite colour into your home, in subtle shades of grey (Chateau, Paris or Chicago),  blues (Greek, Aubusson, Napoleonic, Louis) or in bright, bold tones of Barcelona Orange, Capri Pink or English Yellow. And if you can’t decide, play with your options. Try complementary colours together for a graduated look, like this piece by Annie Sloan.

Whatever you do, apply that first brush stroke in the knowledge that you’ve taken one step towards saving a piece of furniture from ending up in a landfill, or neglected in an over-full dumpster at a charity shop.  

And finish those last touches of wax on your beautifully transformed piece, feeling satisfied in the fact that furniture painting isn’t just environmentally friendly, it’s also art. And you are the artist.

- Written by Vinita Ramani

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