FIRA launches circular economy project for furniture reuse

The Furniture Industry Research Association (FIRA) has today (1 October) launched a consultation on measures needed to develop a circular economy approach to the furniture industry.

The survey, closing on 1 November, is part of a new research project, funded by FIRA, to take practical steps towards, and explore the business case for a circular economy in the furniture industry.

FIRA is an independent organisation providing practical support for organisations throughout the furniture supply chain. It has over 300 members including DFS, IKEA and John Lewis.

The survey invites stakeholders from across the furniture industry to share their perceptions and experiences of wasted furniture in order to gain an insight into the challenges and opportunities presented by the circular economy.

The project targets waste reduction through a combination of design, innovation, reuse, remanufacturing and recycling. This will be achieved by ensuring that existing materials remain in productive use for as long as possible.

‘A society predicated on unsustainable wastage’

The project stems from an increasing need to combat the issue of waste furniture, with FIRA claiming that over one million tonnes of waste furniture and mattresses is being sent to landfill every year in the UK.

In 2013, the Department of Environment, Food & Rural Affairs (Defra) said that 144,000 tonnes of mattresses alone enter landfill each year and called furniture waste a ‘priority area’.

Furthermore, within the industry, FIRA estimates that over 90 per cent of the raw materials used in manufacturing are lost to wastage before the product has even left the factory, while 80 per cent of products are disposed of within the first six months of their life.

Commenting on these figures, James Bell, Sustainability Lead at FIRA, said: “The statistics don’t lie: we live in a society predicated on unsustainable wastage and resource inefficiency. All of this despite the ever increasing cost of sending waste to landfill and the volatility of raw materials prices.

“A critical part of this initial feasibility study will be feedback from our members and other stakeholders, and we hope that this valuable consultation will underpin our future efforts in supporting and facilitating the industry’s transition to a circular economy.

“Whilst the concept and theory behind the circular economy have been addressed by a number of distinguished organisations and institutions, we feel it is imperative to complement this existing research with a sectoral analysis of the furniture industry’s current and future role in this evolving area.

“By stimulating key debate and dialogue, we can continue to support our members by acting as the central repository of information on the topic of the circular economy, as well as sustainable development more generally, across the industry.”

Furniture under the circular economy spotlight

Two reports in recent weeks have looked at the issue of re-use and lengthening lifespans of furniture and other ‘bulky waste’.

The RSA Great Recovery project released a report, ‘Rearranging the Furniture’, last month which outlined ‘seven practical scenarios for redesigning furniture systems and closing the loop on bulky waste’.

The report found that over 80 per cent of the environmental impact of products we use every day is built in at the design stage.

It called on manufacturers to take more responsibility regarding the ‘end-of-life scenario’ in their designs and suggested that a large part of preventing reusable waste going to landfill will take a ‘change of attitude’

Also last month, the Furniture Re-Use Network (FRN) highlighted its perceived success in the reuse and redistribution of furniture in its ‘Commercial retailers: Their impact on the UK reuse sector’ report.

The report claims that it redistributed 78,000 items of quality, reusable household products to those living in poverty in 2014/15.

Reuse, it says, is the ‘key starting point for the circular economy agenda’ and ‘measures the industry’s ‘positive social, environmental and socio-economic impact’ through one million households being provided with low-cost or free goods, 103,000 tonnes of waste diverted from landfills and 4,700 people employed by the sector.

Take part in the FIRA Circular Economy Project survey.