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There are many different ways of judging sustainability and different opinions will view one aspect as more important than another. The fact is that every time a natural element is extracted from the environment and put through a manufacturing process; damage is done to the natural environment.
Here are some considerations about each of the materials commonly used in the manufacture of garden furniture.
Over 8% of the earth’s crust is Bauxite (the rock containing aluminium) which means it is the most abundant metal on our planet. Aluminium is 100% recyclable and loses no quality during this process. Nearly 75% of all aluminium ever produced is still in use today. The Aluminium used in outdoor furniture is recycled from drinks cans, alloy wheels and old airplane wings. Recycling aluminium uses just 5% of the energy required to produce new aluminium and it can be recycled over and over again making it totally sustainable. If you buy a set of aluminium garden furniture the metal will have been used before. If the furniture you buy is the cheap sort that will break it will be recycled when you discard it. A virtuous cycle.
Plastic Wicker Weave
Plastic is derived from oil, a fossil fuel and a big contributor to Global warming. Much plastic is not recyclable and that which is can only be recycled once, so it all ends up in landfill. There really is nothing sustainable about wicker weave plastic furniture, it is not even long lasting as the suns UV light makes it brittle and breakable over time.
Outdoor furniture is either made from Hardwood (eg Teak or Oak) or Softwoods (eg Scandinavian Redwood). More has been written about wooden furniture and its ecological impact than any other material, this mostly refers to Tropical Hardwoods. In the 1990’s wooden outdoor furniture, particularly Teak, was extremely popular around the world and tropical rainforests were being destroyed to keep up with demand. The backlash against this led to the certification of tropical timbers by organisations such as the Forest stewardship council (FSC). Reputable manufacturers will now only use certified tropical wood from plantation grown trees. These plantations are good for the rapid take up of CO2 but not so good for biodiversity. Unfortunately, there are unscrupulous manufacturers who don’t care where the timber comes from, which still encourages deforestation, particularly in Indonesia. Softwoods that are used in cheap outdoor furniture mostly come from purpose planted European plantations, again good for C02 but bad for biodiversity. Softwoods are also injected with Chemicals to preserve them against insects and rot.
Stone is obviously a natural material which is quarried and cut to shape. It will last endlessly until broken. Much stone though comes from parts of the world where there are no environmental restrictions over how the stone is quarried. It also very heavy so the energy cost of transporting it around the world is high.
Oxley’s Furniture have been making their solid outdoor furniture from recycled aluminium for 30 years. In that time, Oxley’s have used recycled aluminium from many thousands of alloy wheels, airplane parts and countless drinks cans to manufacture luxury outdoor furniture in a sustainable way.