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Do you remember the last time you went to Goodwill and found that awesome sweater for 5 dollars? That sweater was probably disliked by the person who donated it, but for you it was the find of the week. The same can be true for furniture. Let’s say that you have newly decorated your living room, and now the coffee table doesn’t quite match. It may be time to get a new table, but don’t just put the old one in a dump. If it’s still in useable condition, donate it. Your old table is a new and wonderful one for another family.
The dumping of furniture, fixtures, and appliances generates too much unnecessary waste. In some cases, old pieces of furniture are burned, releasing toxic chemicals into the atmosphere and subsequently into your lungs. Although adding an old couch to a bonfire can be quite exciting, both the environmental and health consequences can be serious.
Luckily, this can be avoided by recycling the furniture and appliances you remove from your house when moving or remodeling through donations.
What you need to know
There are many places that are willing and excited to accept your old furniture. One such organization is the National Furniture Bank Association, which similarly to food banks, distributes furniture to people in need. Salvation Army, Goodwill, and Big Brothers, Big Sisters are all charities that provide pick-up services and places to drop off old furniture or appliances. Churches and homeless shelters in your area may also be looking for donations. If you have a favorite charity, simply contact them and ask if a furniture/appliance donation could be helpful. Into theatre? Often local theatres need furniture for sets. Your old armchair could be featured in the next show!
Unfortunately, not everywhere that accepts donated furniture also comes to pick it up. Since most people do not own vehicles large enough to carry bulky furniture items, transportation can be a challenge. If you have something to donate, and don’t have a way to get it there, ask friends for help. Often they will have a means to help, or know someone who does. They might have something they want to donate as well.
Of course, don’t donate unusable furniture. A couch that is about to collapse, or an old mattress infested with bedbugs are not acceptable items for donation and should be either recycled or disposed of with appropriate treatment.
Donating an old piece of furniture or appliance and then buying a new one may not save you money initially, however you can receive tax deductions for donating to charity. When it’s time for taxes, simply record the value of your donation on your tax form in the correct section. The paperwork may be a bit annoying, but it’s always nice to get money back for your generosity.
Even though to you it seems like a donation is basically the same as taking an old household fixture to the dump, to someone else it can make a world of difference.
A child in a poor family may have a new place to sleep, a college dorm might be made a little homier, or a family may have a new table to eat around. Many of the things in your house you may consider old actually have a much longer potential lifecycle.
Think about it
It’s the holidays. Give yourself a present by going out and buying that new love seat, and someone else a present at the same time by donating your old sofa.
Think about all the waste that is generated around this time through gift production and packaging. Donation is a wonderfully sustainable way to embrace the holiday spirit. It’s easy and it can make a difference for someone else’s family, and for the environment.
by Tamara Perreault and Keith Heyde
Tamara and Keith are of Bowdoin College and Columbia University respectively. The two started a biotech and environmental consulting start up Abstract Algae over the summer of 2011. For more information, please contact Keith or Tamara at firstname.lastname@example.org.