Furniture is big, bulky, heavy and made of many different types of materials. In other words, it can be very difficult to recycle. To determine if your furniture can be recycled it is important to think about what it is made of and its condition. Furniture that is in good shape can likely be reused. Certain types of furniture can go straight to a recycler, while others will have to go straight to a landfill or incinerator. We will look at how to recycle several different kinds of wood, stuffed and inflatable furniture. But first, let’s get started with a note on reuse.
How to reuse furniture
Assuming your furniture is in good shape, the best way to recycle it is actually to reuse it. Your gently loved furniture can be sold on Craigslist, donated to a thrift store that accepts furniture or given away to someone else in your life. Soft or stuffed furniture should be free of tears, stains or things sticking out of them. It must be clean and dry. Wood items should have minimal wear and tear — no broken pieces or serious water damage.
You can also try reappropriating your furniture. Maybe a down-and-out coffee table can live outside instead of inside. An old couch can go into the basement for the dog to sleep on.
If your furniture does not meet the minimum standard of quality and you want it out of your house, here are some recycling ideas.
How to recycle wood furniture
End tables, coffee tables, bookshelves, dining room chairs and the like all have one thing in common: They are made of treated wood. That makes them difficult, if not impossible, to recycle. The main uses for recycled wood are compost, garden amendments like mulch or burning it for energy. The chemicals in varnishes, paints and other wood treatment products make your old furniture a bad candidate for all those applications.
More and more furniture items are made with less-expensive particleboard and chipboard, but these products fall in the nonrecyclable category as well. Particleboard (which has a grainy look) and chipboard (which looks like it is made of wood chips) are made by chopping up old bits of wood and adding glue to form sheets of lumber. The glue often contains formaldehyde and other toxic chemicals.
Unless your community has a program for accepting treated wood for recycling (something you should treat with suspicion), the best thing to do with old wood furniture is find a way to reuse it. Keep items as is, or decorate them to give them a new look. Here is one fun alternative to stripping and painting wood pieces: use chalk paint (also sometimes referred to as fossil paint), an eco-friendly product that is growing in popularity. The thick substance will cover finished items with a smooth layer of paint, which means you do not need to sand it or use harsh chemicals to remove the old paint first. The van Gogh Fossil Paint Collection
is one chalk paint supplier, or see if your local paint store carries other brands.
How to recycle soft or stuffed furniture
Couches, love seats, easy chairs and similar items are also tough to recycle. The good news is that, in some communities, you should be able to recycle the cushions, which are made of polyurethane foam. Look for private businesses that accept foam from the public. Most municipal recycling centers will not take foam.
The remainder of your item is made up of wood, fabric, stuffing and probably some miscellaneous plastic and metal. There is no cost-effective way to separate out the different components for recycling. Unless you want to disassemble stuffed furniture yourself and find places to take each material within (and you can probably find places to recycle some of those items, particularly any untreated wood in the frames), these items must be thrown away.
How to recycle futons and hide-a-beds
Futons and hide-a-beds warrant their own category because both these items of furniture contain mattresses, which are recyclable in many communities. The International Sleep Products Association
, a trade association for the mattress industry, maintains the most comprehensive list of mattress recyclers across the country. Check their list or use 1-800-RECYCLING’s recycling search tool
to find a mattress recycler near you.
If your futon frame is metal, chuck it in the metal recycling bin at your nearest recycling center. Wood futon frames, which are made of treated wood, and stuffed hide-a-bed frames must be landfilled or sent to an incinerator. Be very careful when you go to move the hide-a-bed; not only are they very heavy, but the frame of the bed can also pop out. See if you can tie it to a section of the couch before moving it, especially if you have already recycled the cushions.
How to recycle inflatable furniture
Ever had an old air mattress that got a hole and would not stay inflated anymore? Or, a cool inflatable couch or chair? Most of them are made of polyvinyl chloride, and it is heartbreaking to put that giant lump of hazardous plastic in the landfill. Yet that is exactly what most people have to do, since PVC recyclers are few and far between.
Again, your best bet for recycling old inflatable furniture is to get creative about reusing it. Cut it up and use it like a tarp to cover firewood or other items outdoors. Look on Pinterest for ideas about crafting PVC into purses or other accessories, especially if your air mattress is a nice color or has a soft, fabric-like top. Your imagination is the only limit.