What is Fast Homeware?
By now most of us have heard of ‘Fast Fashion’ , but how many of us have heard of ‘Fast Homeware’? While this new term might have you conjuring up images of takeaway containers or disposable single-use items, ‘Fast Homeware’ is often more prevalent in our abodes that we realise – you might even be sitting on a piece of fast furniture right now! So what exactly is it?
In short, ‘Fast Homeware’ refers to items of furniture, decor and soft furnishings we purchase and replace cyclically. Rather than saving up and purchasing an item to last a lifetime, sourcing second-hand or even being gifted furniture by local communities, ‘fast homeware’ provides an immediate, inexpensive and on-trend solution for today’s rental generation. With the prevalence of financial hardship, ‘generation Rent’ and an increasingly home-based lifestyle, we are forced to re-evaluate our spending habits and priorities when it comes to furnishing the environment we spend most of our time in. As with fast fashion, price and trend are the key drivers of high street homeware, often at the expense of manufacturing quality and ethical working conditions. As with fast fashion, our dependency on rapid homeware is frequently decided by economic insecurity. Popular retailers, such as Zara, H&M and Wilkos, may offer affordable, personalised home furnishings to entice high-street shoppers, but what actually is the real cost involved? We take a look at the environmental cost of low-price homeware.
Manufactured furniture comes with a carbon footprint: a new sofa has an average carbon footprint of 90kg – that’s equivalent to driving over 200 miles. More than the externalised cost of producing the item, consumers are then binning them. In the United Kingdom alone, consumers discard a mind-blowing 22 million items of furniture every year. That’s more than 50% of our reusable furniture simply being thrown away. Over in the United States, 12 million tonnes of furniture and furnishings go straight to landfill annually. According to a study by NLW Authority into the fast homeware culture in the UK, consumer attitudes show that less than 10% of people try to fix their damaged furniture as opposed to replacing it. Some 23 percent of the people polled claimed that it was the most convenient option, while another 23 percent stated that they were unsure how to get rid of these items, and 20 percent stated that replacing the items rather than fixing them was more cost-effective and easier.
In 2019, the British Heart Foundation found that 30% of people have thrown away furniture, electricals or homewares good enough to sell, reuse or donate. In 2020, Bernardo’s similarly found that 27% of British adults had sent numerous items of unbroken, usable homeware to landfill. These figures don’t imply that people haven’t tried to dispose more responsibly: many of us have been through the horrors of having the donations team turn up only to find that they cannot accept the near-new sofa due to incorrect fire-tags or the beautiful wardrobe due to an unspecified varnish on the woodwork. Safety regulations and limitations on mixed-material recycling serve as a stumbling-block in reducing our carbon footprint or encouraging more sustainable, affordable home-decor practices in the community. When we realise that retailer giants such as IKEA use a staggeringly huge 1 percent of the entire world’s wood, suddenly that TROFAST toy unit doesn’t look so appealing. If you just read that thinking “1 percent doesn’t seem like much”, IKEA is only one business and we have only one planet. For a company giant churning out 15 BILLY bookcases per minute, 1 percent is a staggeringly huge percentage of the Earth’s resources to make poor quality items, to simply throw away into landfill.
It’s not just the volume of waste involved- all of these unwanted items ‘off-gas’ both in our homes and at the landfill site too. Many of these cheap items emit toxic chemicals for years to come. Sofas filled with flammable polyurethane foam are treated with flame retardants and hazardous chemicals. These then off-gas in our homes and are a serious threat to human health. Fast Homeware brings about a range of environmental considerations such as consumer attitudes, product origins, manufacturing conditions, product safety and the massive waste generated by following ever-changing trends.
To counteract the environmental impact of their existing business model, IKEA is back on the scene with a bright idea. Contributing to a greener, circular economy, IKEA has set a goal of becoming a fully circular business by 2030. In their own words, “to reach this goal, we create products that can be used and re-used for many years to come, right up until it’s time to recycle them and start again.” . The idea is that you can take in your used IKEA items and receive a 50% or less payback to then use in their store. There is huge scope to progress back to slow, circular practices such as rental furniture, communally-shared items, second-hand and up-cycled furniture and regenerating lost trades such as local furniture makers. Big businesses need to recognise and embrace the green revolution; maybe IKEA’s 1 percent can help the planet after all.