Feb 10, 2023 • Emmeline Clein
If you’ve gotten new furniture recently, especially in New York City, you’ve probably experienced the extremely relatable struggle of figuring out what to do with your old stuff. We’ve all been there, and abandoning your newly rejected couch on the curb is quite the tempting option. After all, you don’t have to interact with strangers on Craigslist, and every one of us has felt the thrill of finding that perfect piece on the street – even if we were too afraid of getting bed bugs to take it home – so why not give that experience to someone else?
Because all those sofas left streetside add up, it's contributed to the huge uptick in furniture waste production in the US. As of 2015, Americans were throwing away over 5 million more tons of furniture per year than we did in 1990. Out of all those castoff couches, tables, and chairs, a mere 10,000 tons were recycled. While some of the remainder was combusted, the vast majority – 9.69 million tons – ended up in landfills.
There is no reason for your old sofa to be one of the millions thrown away each year. There are ways to give your old couch to a family in need, to sell your furniture to raise money for a great cause, or to donate to a group that will salvage its materials for reuse. In New York, Housing Works, Habitat NYC Restore, and Big ReUse will all come right to your home to save your old sofas from landfills.
Housing Works runs 12 thrift shops across NYC. The shops sell donated goods (including furniture) to raise money for the fight against the intertwined crises of homelessness and AIDS. The organization funds access to housing, healthcare, food, counseling, job training, and legal assistance, in addition to an advocacy arm. They will pick up your furniture after you fill out a pickup request form, no van rentals or arduous attempts to drag your couch down multiple flights of stairs required.
Habitat NYC ReStore is an arm of Habitat for Humanity NYC that provides donated furniture to low-income families. Last year, ReStore kept over 1,460 tons of furniture out of landfills. They will also pick up your furniture, as long as you email them with 48 hours notice.
Big ReUse is a Brooklyn-based organization devoted to promoting the circular economy within the furniture world. They will pick up your unwanted furniture and bring it back to their headquarters, where it is evaluated for either resale or material upcycling.
If you live elsewhere in New York, or have access to furniture transportation, Saint’s Place takes furniture donations and uses them to furnish apartments for refugees placed in the Rochester area.
If you live outside New York, there are many other ways to find a new home for your furniture that's not a landfill. The simplest way to recycle furniture is through furniture banks, which accept all kinds of used furniture and make them available to low-income families. Furniture banks help evicted families furnish new homes when landlords do not allow them access into former homes, as well as people who get off affordable housing waiting lists and need to quickly furnish their new homes. You can find one in your area at this furniture bank directory, and many will pick up a couch directly from your home.
Recycling your furniture should be something we all do as religiously as we recycle our kombucha and cold brew bottles. Luckily, these organizations - much like our closed loop promise - are here to ensure finding your couch a new home is as easy as getting it delivered in the first place.