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How Cheap ‘Fast Furniture’ Could Soon Clog Landfills

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Americans bought piles of furniture during the pandemic, with sales on desks, chairs and patio equipment jumping by more than $4 billion from 2019 to 2021, according to a market data company. And a lot of it won’t survive the decade.

Fast furniture, which is mass-produced and relatively inexpensive, is easy to obtain and then abandon. Like fast fashion, in which retailers like Shein and Zara produce loads of cheap, trendy clothing that’s made to be discarded after only a few wears, fast furniture is for those looking to hook up but not settle down. It’s the one-season fling of furnishings.

Many of the Ikea beds and Wayfair desks bought during the Covid-19 lockdown were designed to last about five years, said Deana McDonagh, a professor of industrial design at the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign. “I relate to fast furniture like I do to fast food,” Ms. McDonagh said. “It’s empty of culture, and it’s not carrying any history with it.”

Ikea of Sweden said in a statement that “life span estimation may vary” for its furniture, and customers are encouraged to repair, resell or return products they can no longer use. Wayfair said through a spokesperson that “we sell an extensive range of furniture products across all styles and price points,” adding that some are meant to “last for generations as well as furniture that meets customer needs for affordability.”

Increasingly, renters and homeowners are opting for fast and cheap, or as Amber Dunford, style director at Overstock.com, defines it, “furniture where the human hand is missing.” And they don’t keep it long. Each year, Americans throw out more than 12 million tons of furniture, creating mountains of solid waste that have grown 450 percent since 1960, according to the Environmental Protection Agency. Bits of tossed furniture can be recycled, but the vast majority ends up in landfills.

“It’s quite a big problem, both spatially and also because of the way a lot of fast furniture is made now, it’s not just wood and metal. The materials don’t biodegrade or break down,” said Ashlee Piper, a sustainability expert and the author of “Give a Sh*t: Do Good. Live Better. Save the Planet.” “We’re creating this Leviathan problem at landfills with the furniture that we get rid of.”

The e-commerce furniture market alone was worth more than $27 billion in…

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