September 2017

Circular Economy Can Revive EU Furniture Sector

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A new circular economy report we completed on behalf of the European Environmental Bureau (EEB) shows that improved refurbishment and re-manufacture of discarded furniture can trigger up to 157,000 new jobs, and save about 6 million tonnes of COequivalent in the EU.

The study presents a range of policy options to improve waste prevention and management in the European furniture sector, which would in turn allow value recovery, economy growth and job creation while saving on resources and the environment. The EEB is Europe’s largest network of environmental organisations with 140 members in over 30 countries.

The European furniture sector faces a number of challenges due to increasing raw material costs, poor turnover in its workforce and growing competitiveness of low-cost countries such as China. Despite this, every year 10 million tonnes of furniture are discarded by businesses and consumers in the EU, the majority of which is destined for either landfill or incineration. Such a waste of valuable materials is a missed opportunity for the economy, but it also undermines efforts to transition to a circular and low-carbon economy.

The increasing reuse and repair of furniture guarantees that resources are kept in the economy rather than wasted in landfills or toxic incinerators, which increases the amount of COreleased in the atmosphere.

Picture caption: Opportunities for a Circular European Furniture Sector

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Some of the measures recommended in the report include:

  • Stricter criteria for Ecodesign, including restrictions on the use of chemicals to facilitate reuse, repair and recycling;
  • Better business models to cut furniture waste;
  • Incentives to take back discarded furniture and mandatory producer responsibility schemes;
  • Life-cycle impact information for procurers, repairers and recyclers as well as consumers.

Carsten Wachholz, Senior Policy Officer for Product Policy at the EEB, said:

By avoiding the generation of furniture waste, EU policy makers can boost a market that was hardly hit by the recent crises and is part of our cultural heritage and style. But this will require the adoption of appropriate demand and supply chain levers to support a change across the industry“.

Alex Forrest, Senior Consultant at Eunomia, and one of the report authors on behalf of the EEB, said:

“This report presents a compelling economic, social and environmental case for transitioning towards a more circular European furniture sector. Forward thinking brands are already thinking along these lines. We hope that the policy options and impacts highlighted in this study, positively contribute towards development of wider circular activity across this important sector.”

The estimated impact of such measures, depending on the ambition of their implementation, are summarised below:

Diagram

The full report, Circular Economy Opportunities in the Furniture Sector, is available here.