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Furniture for outdoor use is available in so many different materials and designs its quite difficult to tell what sustainable outdoor furniture is. Perhaps the best way to try and evaluate eco-friendly outdoor furniture is to judge it in two different ways. Firstly, the lifespan of the outdoor furniture you buy and secondly, the lifespan of the material from which it is constructed.
Sustainability means to buy something that never needs to be replaced. Two everyday examples of this; the coat that you went out on a limb for 20 years ago that you still wear on special occasions and still makes you feel great. Or the ridiculously expensive stainless steel French saucepan that you took to the shop counter when you thought the price on the lid was for the complete saucepan, not just for the lid, but were too embarrassed not to pay for it. That saucepan has been used every day since and is still in perfect condition. Paying for the best is an investment. But it is also absolutely about sustainability. If you buy a coat that is timeless chic 20 years on or a saucepan that works day after day for years, that is an awful lot of coats and saucepans you haven’t had to buy since. The materials originally made in both items have not had to be sourced again.
With outdoor furniture the quality of construction, whatever materials are used, is of particular importance. These items must be able to stand up to extreme heat and UV rays from the sun, snow and ice and a great deal of wind and rain. The elements will find weaknesses in outdoor furniture, specifically in joints and moving parts and manufacturers who care about the longevity of their products know how to mitigate these effects.
Sustainability is also about buying environmentally friendly outdoor furniture. The most obvious example of outdoor furniture that is not sustainable is plastic. Although long lasting, Plastic is manufactured from oil, one of the fossil fuels responsible for global warning. But it will also all end up in landfill, as even if has been recycled once, it can’t be recycled again. Of course most plastic furniture, whether it is plastic weave (made to look like rattan) or smooth plastic, is manufactured direct from oil. Plastic breaks down very very slowly in the environment, eventually breaking down into micro particles which are ingested by living creatures including people. So, although plastic furniture does have a good lifespan outside it could never be considered sustainable.
Examples of Sustainable outdoor furniture include wood, both Hardwood and softwood, stone and of course aluminium.
Examples of Hardwood are teak and Oak. Hardwood trees take a great many years to grow to maturity. The slow growing process makes the wood very dense and hard. This means that hardwood makes the very best outdoor furniture, and it will last for very many years outside, quickly changing colour but then very slowly degenerating over time. It is vital to take the time to discover the source of the furniture you are considering buying as some teak is looted from tropical rainforest. Make sure the furniture you are looking at has an FSC certification.
Examples of Softwood used in the manufacture of outdoor furniture are birch and spruce. These trees grow very fast in managed forests, as mature trees are cut down new trees are replanted. However, furniture made of this material does deteriorate outside much more quickly. Sometimes it is treated with chemicals to increase its life span, but these chemicals are mostly not environmentally friendly.
Outdoor furniture made of stone will last an infinitum but due to its weight it is only practical for furniture such as benches that are going to be placed in one spot for generations.
Aluminium is the perfect material for making Sustainable outdoor furniture. Most aluminium furniture that is purchased new has already been recycled from its previous existence as a drink can, an alloy wheel, or an aeroplane wing. It can always be recycled again into some other product. But more importantly if made properly, aluminium outdoor furniture will last for generations. It needs no maintenance outside and it looks great at all times of the year. During its almost limitless life span it can be recoated in different colours as many times as required, so furniture that was originally bought as a white set can have a new life as a blue set 20 years later.
You will never regret investing in sustainable outdoor furniture that is kind to the planet. It seems only right to put materials that are eco friendly into the natural environment of the outside world.