Keeping a home is wasteful business: Linens and furniture wear thin over time, and kitchen and bath products arrive in single-use packaging before moving on to pile up in landfills or pollute our oceans. In terms of textiles alone, roughly 10 million tons of postconsumer fabrics are jettisoned to the great beyond every year in the U.S. But with consumer incentive programs, recycling partnerships, and a new approach to product lifecycles, some companies are giving all that trash a second chance.
Organic linens brand Coyuchi has championed sustainable materials and production methods since opening their doors in 1991—and now, a new take-back program helps close the loop once goods leave store shelves. Customers can return once-loved blankets, throws, or bedsheets in exchange for a discount on new orders. The returned goods are mended at a partner’s factory and resold as part of a refurbished collection, or broken down by Recover to be spun into yarn for brand-new textiles. Coyuchi is putting that yarn into its first circular product, aptly named the Full Circle recycled cotton blanket & throw, cutting reliance on newly sourced cotton in half.
"It’s the first proof of concept that circularity is achievable in textiles, and beyond," says Eileen Mockus, Coyuchi’s CEO and president. As these programs gain traction, more fabrics destined for the landfill will instead restock retail shelves.
Like Coyuchi, legacy chair company Emeco invites customers to return unwanted or damaged goods—and it puts those materials back into production. There’s no incentive per se—unless acting as a responsible consumer is a payoff—but Emeco, from day one, has continued to source building materials from cutting-room floors—a practice that started with their hallmark aluminum 111 Navy Chair.
The classic line was first designed in 1944 for use on American warships, and to this day it incorporates at least 80% recycled aluminum, and is 100% recyclable. As plastics became ubiquitous in modern product design, they pivoted to incorporate discarded plastics into their products. "We take the leftover bits that wind up on the floor at plastic factories and mix it with discarded wood and sawdust from lumber yards," says the company. The 1 Inch Reclaimed chair line by renowned designer Jasper Morrison, for example, is made of 90% reclaimed polypropylene plastics.
Elsewhere in furniture, flat-pack giant IKEA recently introduced an initiative to go fully circular by 2030. "People are becoming more and more conscious of the impact their choices have on the planet," said the company in an official statement. "They no longer want to be wasteful, and are seeking better value in what they buy. It’s about extending the life of products and materials, seeing them as raw materials for the future, and eliminating waste at every level."
The company plans to do that in a few different ways. For starters, they’re conducting research on their roughly 10,000 products to gauge how circular they are today—in order to better design for tomorrow. Soon, instead of putting busted sofas and chairs curbside for trash haulers, you’ll be able to source spare parts to make them like-new, or return them to IKEA so materials can be salvaged for new products. IKEA is also testing a furniture rental service in parts of Europe. By lending products instead of selling them, they can better control the fate of the materials.
Circular design company Supernovas is also getting into the furniture rental market, but has branded its offering for the modern-day attention span. Beginning January 2021, a subscription-based service called Streaming will put a catalogue of home furnishings at members’ finger tips, allowing them to swap out the likes of benches, crates, or tabletop vessels whenever their preferences change. Everything is produced with recycled and recyclable plastics, so when something is returned, it can be melted down and made anew. A subscription to Supernovas's Streaming service will cost less per item than, say, a premium Netflix account.
Kitchen and bath companies are making similar moves with single-use plastics, and for good reason: Some estimate that a plastic mass equivalent to the weight of 57,000 blue whales enters the world’s oceans yearly. Cleaning product company Method, and personal care brand by Humankind, are doing their part by putting those plastics back into their packaging, and they’re reducing plastic consumption by offering refillable containers. You can purchase dispensers once, and refill them with bulk supplies of hand soap, home cleaning products, shampoo, or dishwasher detergent.
The next time you clean up after a meal, consider Veles: a New Jersey–based company that’s partnering with commercial waste haulers to turn food scraps into all-purpose cleaner. The company sources scraps from Google’s Manhattan campus—on-site catering is robust in tech, and so are leftovers—and has them rerouted from landfills or compost yards to their processing facility across the Hudson River.
There, Veles squeegees out water, acetic and lactic acids, and alcohol to create 97% of their proprietary, bacteria-killing cleaner. Low-impact essential oils like lavender, peppermint, and bergamot are added to give it a pleasant scent, and the solution is delivered directly to the consumer in a recycled aluminum container the color of Saltillo tiles. "When treating waste as a resource, you can both reduce overconsumption of resources and greenhouse gas emissions from landfills," says the company.
To make sustainable shopping accessible, home goods purveyor Goldune is preparing to launch an online marketplace for "the best planet-friendly brands in home, lifestyle, and personal care." Shoppers will be able to peruse a range of products, and Goldune will ensure each one has an end-of-life plan that doesn’t include a landfill with a full-concierge text service to help navigate composting and recycling purchases. As companies explore new ways to bend linear consumption habits into a circle, all we have to do is participate.
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