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waste in the US in
2017 totaled
million tons
ending up in

a mere 0.3% of 
furniture waste sent to

landfills was recovered
for recycling

furniture sales are 
estimated to
rise 5.3% in
the upcoming year,
bringing them to
$71 billion

Achieving a Circular Economy

Fast Furniture

Compared to other waste streams, furniture waste is often overlooked because it’s generated less frequently than other consumer and business waste. Unfortunately, furniture waste is a significant issue due to how it often has to be disposed of. It is not easily thrown out or recycled compared to other waste streams.

Companies are motivated to keep prices low to increase demand, which often means using lower quality materials. Therefore, the consumer assumption is that due to the prices, the furniture is disposable compared to selling or donating. Marisa Donnelly in her article, “What Is Fast Furniture and Why We Should Be Talking About It?”, defines fast furniture as “a cultural phenomenon born of ease and mobility. With so many people relocating, downsizing, upgrading, or in general, shifting their homes and home design preferences each year based on the latest trends, fast furniture aims to create cheap, fashionable, and easy-to-breakdown furniture.” Ikea, the Swedish retailer, produces its now classic Billy bookcase every three seconds.

Cork Harvesting

Cork is unique in that trees are not chopped down to harvest the cork. Cork is made from bark that grows back every nine years. A cork oak can be harvested at least 15 times during its lifespan.

Design Goals


Sustainable Materials

Cork is commonly used as wine stoppers, and there is leftover waste from the small cylinders cut from the virgin material. To prevent the scraps from being thrown out, a composite material can be made. While the cork composite does use a binder, which is not fully biodegradable, creating the composite for furniture allows large chunks of material to be produced while integrating a new material stream from an existing manufacturing process.


Versatile Design

To give a cork product value in a consumer’s life, the design should be both functional in a space and versatile in aesthetic. The consumer should want to continue using it over time. The lifetime of a product can reduce waste and add value to the product itself. The more ways or spaces a consumer might be able to use a design, the more likely they are to connect and appreciate its value.


Integrable into Society

It is hard to change current trends and patterns in society. To encourage sustainable solutions to phenomena such as fast furniture, designers have to be aware of consumer tendencies and how to successfully integrate these solutions into current society. Topics to be considered in this design include how to
encourage sustainable interests when investing in furniture.

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Cork Molding

This process often utaliizes the waste from making cork wine stoppers. Unlike processes such as CNC routing, there is little scrap to achieve the form desired because just enough scrap material and a biner are used to fill custom molds. For a product with an organic form, including my design intent, this process seemed ideal to get a fluid, rounded form. 

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