A great list of resources: http://www.zerowaste.org
Anything you can do to reduce the amount of waste you generate will save you money on purchasing and disposal costs:
A Colorado-based craigslist-inspired online service for businesses, nonprofits and charities, among other organizations in need of office equipment:
The Story of Stuff makes a big impact through its simplicity - set on a white background with Leonard narrating, the film makes creative use of animation to clarify the trajectory of the material objects in our lives. A survey of production to disposal of virtually everything we buy, The Story of Stuff makes the link between the politics of harvesting materials from developing countries and the super-cheap goods we can buy at Walmart. It also addresses the compulsion to consume resulting from peer pressure to the sneaky practice of planned obsolescence.
According to Environmental Protection Agency estimates, approximately 3 million tons of office furniture and furnishings are discarded each year. Statistics for 2005 estimated that 8.8 million tons of furniture ended up in U.S. landfills. Since our founding in 1987, PBD has diverted more than 1,000 tons of furnishings from Bay Area landfills – a significant amount to transform non-profit environments.
Even though furniture has a relatively long product lifecycle (compared to newspapers, for example) it is a high-volume consumer of landfill space. In 2007 (the latest data available from the EPA) only 34% of the generated weight of materials from products such as metal, glass, plastics, textiles and wood was recovered. Older office furniture can be run through an auto shredder and sold for its constituent parts – since the majority of this furniture is made out of metal, but if it’s still functional, is it right to abandon it so readily when it still has value to others? In tough economic times, companies may find it difficult to donate cash. They can still positively impact non-profit organizations by donating surplus furniture and supplies.
Over the years, we have been fortunate to receive donations of paint, fabric, flooring etc, which have allowed us to create beautiful spaces for deserving non-profits. Recently, we have been paying more attention to the type and content of those materials. No- and low-VOC paints are now widely available. FSC-certified lumber, compact fluorescents and LEDs can be found at Home Depot. Local companies like Plan-it Hardware have made it possible for smaller hardware stores to carry bio-based lubricants and protectants, hemp work gloves, and non-toxic wood glue. As we ‘break ground’ on new projects we will making every attempt to use eco-friendly materials. This brings yet another facet to our green story.
Furniture is a component of Municipal Solid Waste (MSW) – otherwise known as trash or garbage – which consists of “everyday” items such as product packaging, grass clippings, furniture, clothing, bottles, food scraps, newspapers, appliances, and batteries. In the United States, annual trash generation has continued to increase since 1960, from 2.68 pounds to 4.62 pounds per person per day in 2007 (the latest figures available from the EPA). While the number of U.S. landfills has steadily declined over the years, the average landfill size has increased.
Worse still, depending on constituents, coatings and finishes, there is potential for furniture to cause leaching from landfills. A lot of energy is also consumed in removing and transporting end-of-life furniture to landfills.
As consumers, we are encouraged to change our home “style” on a regular basis, and not give thought to where these items originate, or what they're actually made from. It’s possible that a bookcase was made from endangered old-growth forest in Brazil or Indonesia. The Earth's tropical forests are now disappearing at an alarming rate, yet they remain vital to our everyday lives – sheltering diverse plant and animal species, preventing soil erosion, and moderating global climate. We think that’s an even more compelling reason not to dispose of furniture without consideration.
Photo: D’Arcy Norman