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Let’s face it, the world is already hooked on American Pickers (including me). It is astounding to watch this van pull up in front of barns that look like they’re about to fall on someone’s head, and find these old, rusted – sometimes broken – products, just to find out that they’re actually a piece of American history and worth thousands of dollars. This one show has literally made all households think twice before throwing anything out, wondering if perhaps that teapot is something far more than just an item they picked up at a tag sale a few years back.
Well, not only has this become fun and a national pastime, recycling older items, such as furniture you believe is well beyond repair and of no use to anyone, has become a huge industry – an industry that is saving our environment one couch at a time.
Now I already know that 80% or more of us have walked through the doors of a Goodwill or a second-hand store and purchased a lamp or a sweater for five dollars. Not only that, I know the same 80% or more have loved that lamp or sweater so much that it became their favorite. The point is that the person who gave it to the store disliked the item, but instead of believing that everyone had the same taste they did, they gave it to the store. With this one move they kept a landfill cleaner, and the purchaser of the item has something they truly love.
The wave that is recycled furniture has become big business. There are some companies that are so clever they can make one of the most stunning chairs you’ve ever seen out of old cans and a bathtub, AND make it look like it cost $5000 and sat in Macy’s window.
You should be aware that some old pieces of furniture are burned, and this process releases toxic chemicals into the atmosphere and straight into your children’s lungs. By keeping that old chair or coffee table away from the bonfire, you are not only saving the environment, but you are giving someone better health all at the same time.
What you should know right off the bat is that there are many places willing to accept your old furniture – and they WANT it. The National Furniture Bank Association distributes furniture to people in need. The 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 that are very needed. Churches, homeless shelters, a favorite charity, local theaters – there are a ton of locales that will take your old furniture while allowing you to reduce your carbon footprint.
Not to mention, donating an old piece of furniture or even a hefty appliance offers you tax deductions for donating to charity. And think of how many lives you’d be affecting at the same time. Just like that sweater, you might think a household fixture, appliance or furnishing is useless, but there are families out there who need these items – these items would be a blessing to them – so think first before throwing anything away.
Also, before going out and buying the next $1,500 ‘must-have’ chair, you have GOT to check out the stellar furniture designers in this country who prove recycling can also be absolutely stunning. They have cool, sometimes bizarre, furnishings that would make a house come alive. These one-of-a-kind pieces are fun, colorful, imaginative, and one of those things that everyone wants to know everything about. They’re eclectic, and cannot be found anywhere else.
According to the EPA, a very true and frightening statistic is that furniture accounted for 8.8 million tons, or 3.6 percent of our waste stream (quadruple the tonnage of 1960). By both recycling furniture and then buying refurbished pieces when we crave something new, we are choosing to take ourselves out of the furniture supply chain that hurts our environment.
Do you need ideas on how to revamp what you already have? There are tons. Refreshing furniture is easy and a whole lot of fun. With some updated upholstery or a snazzy new paint job, something can honestly come back to life. The EPA says chairs are the largest group of furniture tossed into the landfill. But think about it! Unscrew the seats, cover it in a brand new fabric, and ‘Poof!’ you have a chair that could actually be a conversation starter at your next dinner party.
And NEVER count out the good, old garage sale. Some of my absolute best memories are still when I was able to get in the station wagon with my mother and two grandmothers and go in search of treasures that no one even knew had been stored in their garage. And nowadays we can all see, just with American Pickers, that some of these items – from metal toy cars to what we thought was costume jewelry – are worth good money.
I need to take a moment to give a big shout out to a site I stumbled across in my research called The Castor Canadensis design collective. They take old fluorescent light tubes and redesign them into elegant (no kidding) light fixtures. They are remarkable.
They use everything from shopping carts to old sports equipment, to create skillful designs that would make any home as up-to-date and technologically savvy looking as you possibly could get. From rugged to fancy, there are so many companies and products out there that speak volumes about the skill, talent and creativity of our people. And the fact that the landfills are emptier and the next generation will have cleaner air and a better future because of them is the best ‘find’ of all.