A large pile of furniture waste at landfill

Sustainability: Small changes, big difference

Being planet-friendly is a top priority in this eco-conscious era. At home, we are watching what we waste or ditching disposable options and in business, customers are increasingly expecting to see ethical steps being taken when they shop and spend their cash. The reality is that we are all looking for ways to make our lives and our businesses ‘greener’.

The great news is that upholstery is one of the most sustainable crafts on the planet. Let’s think about it – what could be greener than taking an old piece of furniture and giving it a new lease of life? My job makes me realise we don’t NEED new furniture. By repurposing pieces that already exist we’re creating something extra special and doing our bit for sustainability too.

Unwanted furniture is still one of the bulkiest burdens on landfill, but reupholstering rather than replacing items that have seen better days is a responsible choice. It makes total sense to me to use what’s out there already and reinvent it beautifully. Being planet-friendly has sometimes been seen as too expensive, inconvenient and time-consuming but the reality is that the issue is no longer whether you can afford to do it and instead whether you can afford not to. The question is, how can we make upholstery even greener? Well, here’s a few ways to start…

A large pile of furniture waste at landfill

Forward-thinking fabric

Aside from opting for textiles with naturally derived compositions, there is a growing trend for more sustainable manufactured fabrics too. I’m seeing more and more ranges that aim to reduce the impact on the environment without compromising on quality. Made of environmentally conscious, sustainable materials such as 100% PET recycled polyester from waste plastic bottles, recycled wool, recycled acrylic and Tencel lyocell, these textiles can be repurposed for future use and are therefore ‘circular’ in nature. It’s good to see some seriously clever innovation coming along.

Some of the bigger companies leading the charge are Kirkby Design, Linwood Fabrics and Arley House. Its CEO, Adrian Tratalos, told me, “We are finding our customers increasingly more aware of eco sustainability issues and in turn take those views extremely seriously.” The company is currently testing several recycled fabrics and will soon be launching a range of fully recycled base cloths that can be printed with any Arley House design.

Camira and Clarke & Clarke also do some great, recycled collections. I’d recommend seeking out smaller brands too, such as Cable & Blake, who are preserving the heritage of the ancient Herdwick sheep breed and community by sourcing wool from local farms.

A modern, grey chair upholstered in sustainable fabric from Camira.
A chair from Camira’s recycled collection.
A stack of sustainable fabrics from Cable and Blake in assorted colours
Sustainable fabrics from Cable & Blake, using wool sourced from local farms.

Rehash your trash

There’s no getting away from it – most modern chairs are made using polyurethane foam as the main upholstery material. There are huge environmental issues with manufactured foam, from the reliance on toxic chemicals and air pollutants in its production to the fact that it’s not biodegradable and therefore a worrying amount of it ends up in landfill.

By its nature, foam is not planet friendly. But what are the alternatives? Upholsterers such as Vanessa Butt are championing more eco-friendly options such as rubberised coconut fibre and foam, featherand polyester-fibre-free fillings. The Thought-Fill Cushion uses a layer of rubberised coconut fibre tufted between 100% sheep’s wool, encased in a calico cotton liner.

Other options out there include Quallofil Blue, which is made by ADVANSA, a leading European fibre fillings producer, using ocean-bound recycled plastic collected by Plastic Bank. Each cushion is made from approximately 200 recycled bottles. Replacing urethane foam, natural Dunlop latex foam, processed without any harmful chemicals or petroleum products, is tapped from Para Rubber trees, today grown mainly in southeast Asia. It is used as an eco-friendlier replacement for urethane foam in cushions & padding and is biodegradable. When it comes to other stuffings and sundries, it makes sense to look for the most natural option. Organic cotton, for instance, for batting, padding and ticking.

Vanessa Butt alongside raw materials used in her sustainable Thought-Fill cushions
Vanessa Butt champions the use of eco-friendly options; the Thought-Fill cushion uses rubberised coconut fibre.
The Neo chair in Black Pop velvet fabric that is made from recycled water bottles.
The Neo chair from my Very Vintique collection, reupholstered in Black Pop Neo 13–velvet made from recycled plastic bottles.

“We need to rediscover how to be sustainable and move from being apart from nature, to becoming a part of nature once again.”

Sadly, there is a reliance on foam in modern upholstery methods, but initiatives such as Go Beyond Matter, an online directory of eco conscious interior designers and related design industries, aim to promote more sustainable alternatives into the field of interior design by integrating an environmental awareness and responsibility into the materials and methods we all choose. I’ve found it a good resource for eco upholstery paddings and I’ve learned a lot by seeing what they sell. I like the traffic light system they have for their products too.

The Foam Shop is making great headway in the war on waste. Its zero-tolerance policy on foam waste ensures that none of its foam offcuts ever goes to landfill. It says, “We pride ourself in finding interesting ways to re-purpose any off-cuts left over from production.” For example, offcuts are sent to gymnastics clubs to fill foam pits and in some cases foam is granulated to produce foam crumb, which is a substitute for fibre or feather-filled cushions.

In the words of Sir David Attenborough (because, let’s face it, who could say it better), “We need to rediscover how to be sustainable and move from being apart from nature, to becoming a part of nature once again.” As upholsterers, we are already leading the charge in the circular economy but if we could all make some extra small adjustments in the way we do our upholstery and the materials we choose, just imagine what a difference we could make.

*This blog originally featured in StuffStitch magazine.

If you have a project in mind or fancy doing your bit for the planet, drop me a line by filling in the online contact form. You can also email me directly at sharon@vintiqueupholstery.com or call me on 07764 182 783.

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