Materials

EEB commissions study into circular economy opportunities for furniture

Eunomia Research & Consulting will investigate potential ways to accelerate a circular economy across the European furniture industry in a project commissioned by the European Environmental Bureau (EEB).

EEB commissions study into circular economy opportunities for furniture
The research will investigate opportunities to make the furniture industry more circular
According to the European Federation of Furniture Manufacturers, furniture waste across the European Union accounts for more than four per cent of total municipal solid waste. Of this amount, it says that up to 90 per cent is incinerated or dumped in landfills, with a maximum of 10 per cent being recycled.

Closer to home, in the UK, around 300,000 tonnes of reusable furniture is thrown out every year.

While this waste is occurring, the EEB says that the European furniture industry is facing a variety of economic, regulatory and environmental challenges, including growth in emerging markets, consumer demand for ‘keenly priced’ items and volatile raw material and energy costs.

Because of this, the body, which represents European grassroots environmental organisations and promotes their demands at European and global level, has called on Eunomia to study possible key interventions and policy levers that could increase the use of circular business models and practices within the furniture supply chain.

Eunomia says its research will explore the impacts of adopting ecodesign principles, incentivised return, leasing and take-back models, and shifting production towards the greater use of secondary materials, amongst other factors. It will also anslyse the main constraints and opportunities at each stage of the supply chain, looking at key benefits in terms of material conservation, CO2 emission reduction and net cost saving opportunities.

Perfect storm on the horizon

Ahead of its conclusion earlier this year, the RSA Great Recovery project, a four-year investigation scrutinising the impact of design and possible routes to a more circular economy, last year released a report proposing ‘seven practical scenarios for redesigning our furniture systems and closing the loop on bulky waste’.

These included changing the way that fire safety labels are attached to furniture so that they aren’t removed by owners and prevented from resale, more promotion of reuse and repair organisations, and better designing for remanufacture or disassembly.

EEB commissions study into circular economy opportunities for furniture
Sophie Thomas, who ran The Great Recovery project at the same time as being Director of the Circular Economy at the RSA, and is also Co-Founder of the Thomas.Matthews design agency, will support Eunomia in researching possible interventions to improve the industry’s resource efficiency.

Speaking to Resource this summer for a feature about the role of design in the circular economy, Thomas said: “We talk about a perfect storm on the horizon where we have increased demand for materials from population increases, middle classes in the developing world increasing, geopolitical pressures put on certain resources and finite accessible resources of elements… All of those factors line up, and we’ll get to the point where one would hope that their business models have to change.”

Environmental and economic benefits to a more circular furniture industry

Commenting on the project, Eunomia Founder and Chairman Dr Dominic Hogg said: “There is a long list of potential benefits to developing a more circular furniture supply chain. Some of them are environmental, such as significantly reducing reliance on the extraction and input of raw materials, and reducing greenhouse gas emissions as a result.

“But there are economic benefits too: a more circular supply chain promotes growth and jobs in emerging service areas such as repair, reuse, remanufacture and leasing.”

Stéphane Arditi, Products & Waste Policy Manager from EEB, added: “From business model and products design to end-of-life stage, we expect with this report to identify concrete circular economy opportunities and extrapolate associated environmental and economic benefits for Europe.

“This is a challenging task as data is not yet fully consolidated at European level, and the industry is diversified in terms of materials and economic actors. But this will hopefully provide a clear baseline vision to engage with the industry and policy makers on how to unleash circularity potentials in the furniture sector.”

More information on how design can lead circular business models is available in Resource’s feature from this summer.

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