Buying second hand in the furniture industry

Buying second-hand furniture is a great way to reduce your personal environmental impact. This short guide will point you towards some of the more ethical options when buying pre-loved furnishings for your home.

Furniture - we buy a lot of it. A report published in 2017 by the European Environment Bureau concluded that the citizens of EU states buy approximately 10.5 million tonnes a year. Sadly, only a fraction of this is sourced in an ethical way.

Most of the furniture we buy contains some variety of wood, from solid oak to chipboard.  As a leading cause of unsustainable forestry, the furniture industry is responsible for 30% of illegal timber traded worldwide. The consequences of this illicit trade include conflict, the disappearance of animals and plants, and climate change.

However, the problems do not end once furniture items leave the factory. For example, toxic compounds found in furniture paint are released into the air over the years. This process is known as off-gassing and has a negative impact on both health and the wider environment.

Furniture is also damaging when thrown away, because of the toxicity of some paints leaking when in contact with water at landfills, creating a potential environmental hazard. (see Ethical Consumer’s guide to paint for more).

With the European Environment Bureau report finding that 90% of all furniture ends up being incinerated or sent to the landfill, this is clearly a big issue. However this doesn’t have to be the case. You can buy second-hand and dispose of your old furniture in a more ethical way.

Where to buy second-hand from 

There are plenty of places to buy second-hand items. Many can be bought very cheaply or even found for free.

Websites 

  • Ebay is one of the most popular options out there for second-hand furniture. It has an impressive range of vintage options, as well as a subsection for unusual furniture, for those who are interested in spicing their homes up. Find out more about ebay on our company profile page. Ebay is also featured in our guide to booksellers.
  • Freecycle is brilliant for furniture freebies and gives everyone the chance to offload their unwanted objects without sending them to landfill.
  • Another useful online tool is Preloved, which revolves around bargains with a mission to decrease landfill. You can find a variety of things, including food and drink appliances or furniture that would give your home a rustic feel. Preloved also has a section called Freeloved, which gives unwanted items a home for free.

We recommend going to see an item before you buy it so you can ensure it is in good enough condition to use as it is or to upcycle.

Generally, we also recommend checking if the furniture has a fire safety label, and similarly leaving the label on if you intend to give yours away, as stores such as the charity shops below won’t resell them.

Charity shops

Charities are a great place to buy second-hand goods from – they are good for the environment and contribute to a good cause. Barnardo’s, for instance, have launched a 'Homeware Edit' brochure to encourage shoppers to “discover the joy of shopping pre-loved homeware, to design ‘One-Of-A-Kind’ style for every room in your house”.

However, charities can sometimes be involved in controversies, which is why we recommend checking for any such issues before committing to one, to make sure that your money is invested ethically and in full conformity with your values. 

Barnardo’s, for example, was reported this year to have partnered with Youth Justice Board under a contract which did not allow them to report to local authorities on the welfare of the children kept at a youth prison.  This comes after Barnardo’s was previously criticised by Open Democracy in the past for partnering with G4S to provide services at detention centres which house asylum seekers and children at a secure facility.  This relationship ended in 2017.

If you’re lucky, you can even enjoy a 50% discount at your local store. All you have to do is keep your eyes peeled, as the promotions vary depending on the area you are in. British Heart Foundation also has a 30-day return policy and a 6-month statutory product protection, which means you are enjoying similar rights to if you were to buy new products.  However, BHF does test on animals during their research. Therefore, depending on how strongly you feel about animal welfare, you might want to shop elsewhere.

See also the Animal Aid website for a list of which health charities fund animal testing.   

Other things to consider

Local initiatives

You can also look out for local council initiatives towards re-using furniture. For example, Barnet Council and Haringey Council in London offer a few options you can choose from. 

For those in Scotland another charity to consider buying second-hand furniture from is FourSquare, which is supported by the social enterprise Edinburgh Furniture Initiative and helps homeless people in Scotland. They also focus on helping people from disadvantaged backgrounds, by engaging in social care and enterprise, learning and employability.  They do not currently sell furniture online, but you can find their products at two large warehouses in Edinburgh, which range from quality beds and sofas to bric-a-brac and electrical items.

Is it made from recycled material?

Buying second-hand can also mean buying ethically-made products that contain recycled material.

Green Tulip sells homeware made from recycled materials - for example, their wool throws and cushions are not only recycled, but also natural, organic, fair trade, sustainable and handmade. Green Tulip is featured in our Ethical Online retailers guide.

Baumhaus uses wood coming from a variety of places from boats to railway sleepers, keeping its natural marks and colours. 

Baumhaus is stocked by Hampshire Furniture, a company committed to “green business practices whenever feasible”. Most of their furniture is made from sustainable, FSC-certified timber, with their Industrial Chic and Retro Industrial collections, such as Baumhaus, using recycled timber.

What are your favourite ethical furniture places? Tweet them to us @EC_magazine using the hashtag #EthicalFurniture.