Today's stylish outdoor furniture designs may require a double-take to recognize they are not meant for indoor-living luxury.
Furniture designers have worked hard to satisfy consumers' appetites for elegant outdoor pieces that go beyond the garden bench. Now, the industry is responding to the environmentally conscious desire to maintain stunning designs in sustainable outdoor furniture.
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The 2013 Green Home Furnishings Study conducted by the Sustainable Furnishings Council found that 45.2 percent of respondents said they were "definitely interested" in buying green home furnishings if they liked the style and the cost was comparable to other options. A total of 84.6 percent of respondents said they were at least "possibly interested."
The council's executive director, Susan Inglis, says that green comes in many different shades for eco-friendly furniture. "Sustainability is a triple-bottom line," Inglis says. "It's about what's good for ecosystems on our planet, what's good for communities, and what's good for economies."
Indeed, sustainability deals with many material and social concerns including, conservation, landfills and social equity.
When environmental concerns grew among the public in the 1980s, recycling became the prime effort to protect the environment. This movement brought about an excess of high-density polyethylene recycled plastic in the form of milk jugs and other containers.
In 1990, owners of Syracuse, Indiana-based Poly-Wood discovered an innovative use for recycled milk jugs by extruding them into plastic lumber for outdoor furniture. The company's first design, an Adirondack chair made of the recycled plastic, was a hit and continues as a best-seller for the company, says Vice President Brady Maller.
"We find a lot of opportunity to get really beautiful shapes," Maller says of the design process with HDPE. Further, HDPE doesn't bend like other plastics and is impervious to nearly all types of weather conditions.
Maller likes to talk about the "generational" quality of Poly-Wood furniture. At the end of its useful life, the product, made from recyclable material, is a recyclable product itself, Maller says.
Loll Designs, a sustainable outdoor furniture manufacturer in Duluth, Minnesota, also got its start with an Adirondack chair. Founders Greg Benson, Dave Benson and Tony Ciardelli conceived Loll as a way to repurpose the excess 100-percent recycled and recyclable HDPE used by their original company, TrueRide, which designed and built skateboard parks. Furniture pieces were nested into the same sheets of HDPE used to produce skatepark ramps and components. Three years of prototyping went into the first Loll Adirondack before it launched at retail in 2006.
Loll now produces a range of outdoor furniture, including chairs, benches, tables and other accessories, made from the same recycled material, sourced primarily from milk jug containers.
"We believe by using 100-percent recycled and recyclable material we are supporting and promoting eco-initiatives/principals that we share and strive for, including reuse, recycle, and supporting USA-sourced and USA-made products," says founder Greg Benson. "Our products keep material out of the landfill and also reduce the amount of new plastic being made."
For every pound of weight in a Loll chair, approximately eight recycled milk jugs are being reclaimed. The company estimates it has repurposed more than 35 million recycled jugs in its furniture since 2005.
The milk-jug provenance, however, belies HDPE's sturdiness.
"Our material is also very heavy," Benson says. "The average weight of an Adirondack chair is approximately 50 pounds so your furniture will not blow around."