Fast Furniture Is Putting 9.7M Tons in Landfills—and These Artists Are Fed Up

published Apr 18, 2019
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(Image credit: Jonathan Pilkington)

Everyone has heard of “fast fashion,” a term used to capture the quick nature of current fashion trends. It also expresses the wasteful elements that come with it, like harm to the environment, and as a result, our well-being. But this rapid turnover of product doesn’t stop at clothing production—the exact reason why two NYC-based artists are pushing awareness for “fast furniture” through their latest, eye-catching art installation.

Earlier this week, Matt Starr and Ellie Sachs built a large pile of used furniture in the SoHo neighborhood of NYC. Just as its title “Take What You Want” suggests, the masterpiece was anything but permanent, as the public was invited to start taking items hours after they set it up on the street. Yes, this provided locals with free furniture, but more than that it raised awareness that there is an excess amount of unrecyclable furniture that ends up in landfills—9.7 million tons each year, to be exact.

It all began after Matt and Ellie watched “Tidying Up with Marie Kondo” earlier this year. Just like everyone else, they were inspired to declutter their lives and drop their thanked items off at consignment stores, which were already filled to the brim with others doing the same. A month later, Matt and Ellie attempted to get rid of some furniture during a move and came to realization that it’s very hard to recycle such items due to a mixture of materials.

(Image credit: Jonathan Pilkington)

To make others aware, they partnered with furniture subscription company Feather who agreed to donate used furniture to make up their installation in NYC, a place that is used to seeing sidewalk furniture. “It’s so ubiquitous seeing furniture on the streets in New York, you don’t even think twice, so we wanted to create a heightened version of it,” Ellie told Apartment Therapy. “Take on something that we see every day but put a magnifying glass on it to get people thinking about it like okay, throwing out stuff is fun but where does it go?”

And so, first thing in the morning, people started noticing this monstrous pile sitting on a street corner. A large sign leaned against the pile, reading: “Free!! Take what you want! We just moved and didn’t know where/how to get rid of this stuff. Seriously, if you can carry it, you can take it!” When told about the amount of furniture in landfills, passersby were shocked, a reaction that Matt and Ellie were looking for as they hope people try to change their relationships with furniture.

So where does someone start with helping to bring down this number? Ellie says the three Rs: reduce, reuse, recycle. “Reducing waste, so not just buying single-use stuff that is meant to be thrown out, and then reusing things as long as possible, so buying investment pieces,” said Ellie. “If you’re living in an apartment, you’re sometimes there for only six months or a year, and renting furniture can be a really smart way [to do this]. It keeps it from landfills because it keeps going to different people.”

While the public art installation may be gone—whatever wasn’t taken was brought to a donation center—the activist-artists hope that the visual of a towering pile of furniture sticks with those who saw it. And hopefully, there will be many more of these demonstrations to come.