I built a bench. Two, actually, so that I can cram more people around our dining table for dinners and parties. This is a very simple bench – 2 X 4s, 2 X 3s, 1 X 12s, nails, screws, nothing else. Friends and family have been asking me when I’m going to stain it – it does look kind of naked as is. But since starting No Trace, I’ve started to really think about the life cycle of my things. For example, what will happen to my couch when it reaches the end of its useful life? How about my shoes? My mattress? Many of our non-recyclable possessions will be around on this planet long after we are gone, most likely in a landfill. Manufacturers don’t usually consider the death of their products. Once it’s out of their hands, they lose interest in its fate. There are exceptions to this rule, of course. Interface is one of the first companies I learned of that creates truly sustainable products (carpet tiles). Patagonia is also a leader in sustainability, from their sources for raw materials to repairing and eventually recycling worn clothes. Both companies are truly inspiring.
So, this brings me to my new benches. If you keep wood, a renewable resource, unstained and naked, it can be returned to the earth one day. Once it is beyond reuse, you can either compost it in your yard waste bin, your home compost pile, or use it for a fire. If you paint it or stain it, though, it becomes destined for the landfill. Some paints and stains on the market are all natural and biodegradable, but you probably won’t be able to put it in your yard waste bin for curb pick up, and you probably won’t want to burn it either. So I’ve decided to keep the benches naked. The absence of a stain won’t impact how long they last. While they aren’t as easy to clean as a painted or stained bench, I can easily sand down any smudges or smears. Or just sit on the smudges and smears, which is what we currently do (hey, they are reminders of the fun meals we’ve had together). Plus, we have one less bucket of stuff in the garage that isn’t empty enough to recycle. Although these benches are only two of the many pieces of furniture in our home, they are a nice reminder to me and anyone who notices that all of our possessions have a life and a death. If we can plan for their eventual demise, we can help minimize the resources we consume and the footprint we leave behind.
Tell me – do you have any sustainable furniture in your home? Or other products you love for their sustainability? I’d love to hear about it!