06-Jul-2020 : Pavitra Sriprakash, Director and Chief Designer at Shilpa Architects Planners Designers writes a weekly column on Sustainability for The New Indian Express titled “ECOLOGIC”. This week’s article talks about upcycled and recycled furniture.

Full article below: (Also available at The New Indian Express Website)


The point of adopting a sustainable, eco-friendly lifestyle is to only choose items and products that are good for the environment in the long run. This in turn refers to durable, less wasteful products which when disposed off, will cause little to no ha rm to the environment because of their biodegradable and organic properties. Millions of tonnes of old furniture is thrown away every year across the world — winding up in landfills. With such large numbers being documented in organised landfills one can only wonder what the numbers in our landfills are like.

Even though only 34% of the Indian population resides in urban areas, this population of 1.38 billion people generates a gigantic 62 million tonnes of waste per year, and these figures increase every day with an increase in population. Across the world, 4-5% of household waste in landfills is furniture — so we can estimate that in India we generate upto 3.1 million tonnes of furniture waste per year — or the weight of about 6.2 lakh elephants (ironically the total estimated elephant population on the planet is only 4,65,000) As part of the Swachh Bharat Mission, the Central Public Health and Environmental Engineering Organisation (CPHEEO) along with the Ministry of Urban Development (MoUD) released the Municipal Solid Waste Management manual.

According to the manual, the approach prescribed was to have an extended producer responsibility (EPR) in order to minimise the furniture waste in landfills. An EPR is a policy approach wherein a producer is held responsible for the post-consumer stage of a product, typically for defined tasks of separate collection, reuse, recycling, and storage and treatment. EPR programmes require a national or state-level directive and are usually mandatory through legislation, but can also be adopted voluntarily (i.e. retail take-back programmes). In the case of furniture, the EPR would be voluntary and would promote materials exchange or reuse to keep it out of landfills.

For example, a program could link sellers of used furniture with potential second-hand furniture buyers. But before we start looking to the government for answers, stop and note — did you know that most of the furniture used in homes and offices can be recycled? So if you are about to throw out furniture in the municipal garbage think of these options first. The first consideration is to donate it to a charity or someone who may still have a need for it. There are websites which also allow individuals to sell used items creating an easy marketplace for such goods.

Before you decide to toss it, consider refinishing your furniture to get a brand new look. With a little imagination it is possible to turn old furniture into something new and amazing. A shiny new paint or varnish could add a glossy touch, or go the opposite route and get a vintage look by creating an artfully cracked or distressed look which is very popular nowadays. For old couches and chairs, consider reupholstering the pieces with a bold new fabric.

Repurposing or upcycled furniture is a rage in home décor today. Some creative ideas include using an old ladder to hang towels or blankets, using an old door as a headboard or table, repurposing a wooden packing crate as a side table to stack magazines and using old travel trunks as bedside tables, coffee tables, side tables or display pieces. Even when buying new furniture consider buying from recycled, antique, renewable or repurposed sources. If all else fails, remember that most furniture today is of wood, metal or some other recyclable material — take it apart and recycle each part separately, never send it whole to languish in a landfill!