Australia has a fast furniture problem, and it needs to change

Most people have heard about the damage that fast fashion is causing to the environment, but what about fast furniture? Australia has a massive furniture waste problem and it’s being driven by an industry that favours quantity over longevity and quality. The cheaper the materials, the harder furniture is to repair which means that much of our furniture ends up in landfill. And the cost to the environment is huge.

Speaking to the problem, our Minister for the Environment and Water Tanya Plibersek has noted: “Waste is increasing, but the proportion of waste we’re recycling isn’t. Every bit of rubbish that ends up in landfill is a missed opportunity to contribute to a circular economy in which nothing is wasted. We know that the way we are doing things now is not sustainable.”

Waste not, want not

Australians are some of the greatest producers of waste in the world, and year-on-year we’re getting worse. In fact, if everyone in the world lived like us, we’d need 4.5 Earths to sustain our way of living – making us only second to America for our consumption of resources per capita. At a global level, we would need the equivalent of 1.6 Earths to maintain our current way of life.

Koskela’s aim is to change this, but we need some serious systemic shifts to help move the needle. 

How big is our big problem?

Annually, each Australian family produces enough rubbish to fill a three-bedroom house, which works out to be about 2.1 tonnes of waste per person.

In 2020-21, Australia generated 75.8 mega tonnes (Mt) of total waste – that is roughly the equivalent weight of 471 Sydney Opera Houses.

If we're looking at furniture waste only, it’s estimated that the amount of furniture dumped in Sydney’s landfills every year is the equivalent of 800,000 three-seater sofas, 1.65 million dining tables, 3.5 million coffee tables or 6.85 million chairsHard to imagine? To conjure another Aussie icon, the amount of furniture thrown out annually by Australian households is more than four times the weight of the Sydney Harbour Bridge.

A huge amount of this waste stream comes from office furniture – over 10 million tonnes globally each year – and it’s estimated that 95% of all commercial furniture ends up in landfill, instead of being reused or recycled through proper waste management infrastructure.

It is estimated that 75% of all furniture purchased by Australian governments is imported, and high levels of hazardous chemicals of concern are unknowingly imported into the country. These include PFAS, or “forever chemicals”, which don’t break down naturally and pose a real threat to the environment and our health. 

Office fitouts are particularly problematic. The average office fitout has a lifespan of only 5-7 years, which is highly unsustainable and means that multiple fitouts can end up having a larger carbon footprint than that of an initial new building construction over its average 60 year-lifespan.

A circular solution

To solve this, we need to push the industry towards circularity. Koskela has committed to going fully circular by 2027. This means everything we make will be repairable, reusable or – as a last resort – recyclable.

How do we do this?

  • 🚫 ELIMINATE - Eliminate waste and pollution caused by production and distribution, for example using Woolpack and coconut husk as alternative materials and always designing to maximise sheet yield.
  • 🌀 CIRCULATE - Keep products in circulation as long as possible through via our Repair & Renew program and maximising repairability, and the upcoming rollout of our subscription ‘furniture as a service’ model for school and office fitouts.
  • 🍃 REGENERATE - Help regenerate nature by replacing virgin materials with materials already in circulation or that incorporate waste products.

  • We know that there is no simple solution to Australia’s waste problem, but there is a path and Koskela is fully committed to making a difference. If you want to learn more about our roadmap to sustainability, you can read our 2027 Circularity Action Plan