Furniture Stewardship & Toxic-Free Couches

UPSTREAM is working to develop and implement policies that address the coming wave of unwanted couches and furniture contaminated with toxic flame retardants.

iStock_000049519504_MediumThe bromine chemical industry in conjunction with Big Tobacco conducted a decades-long campaign that loaded the furniture and electronics in American homes with pounds of toxic chemicals linked to cancer, neurological deficits, developmental problems and impaired fertility. The bromine industry helped create and sustain industry standards that all but mandated the use of brominated flame retardants (BFRs) in upholstered furniture since the 1980s.

Despite a recent change in California law, which allows furniture manufacturers to make and sell new furniture without BFRs, most Americans still have contaminated furniture in their homes, schools, and offices buildings. The proper management of these couches and chairs requires sound policies to ensure that the furniture and its constituent materials are handled in ways that protect public health and the environment from additional toxic exposure.

What will Furniture Stewardship & Toxic-Free Couches Achieve?

The project will establish EPR policy to address the coming wave of unwanted couches contaminated with BFRs and pressure furniture manufacturers to discontinue the use of toxic BFRs. Three distinct rationales exist for pursuing EPR for furniture:

  • couchPreventing widespread toxic pollution from BFR-contaminated furniture
    Through pushing for an industry-wide standard essentially mandating the use of BFRs for foam furniture in the 1980s, the bromine chemical industry has created a massive source of persistent, bio-accumulative toxic chemicals that will be pervasive in the environment and our bodies for generations to come. It is important that policies to address unwanted furniture make the bromine chemical industry responsible for mitigation. Foam contaminated with BFRs does not have many commercially viable end-markets, plus there are considerable environmental health concerns associated with making new products out of contaminated foam. Proper management will likely generate significant costs, which should be covered by the chemical industry through an EPR program.

bulky waste clogging landfills

  • Promoting sustainable materials management
    Furniture (including mattresses) are made from a variety of materials including: Wood – 64%; Metals – 11%; Textiles – 4%; Latex Foam – 1%; Polyurethane Foam – 4%; Other 15%. Many of these materials can be recycled, but currently in the United States, nearly all furniture and mattresses go to landfills or incinerators, wasting natural resources and energy. In the absence of end-of-use responsibility, many furniture and mattress manufacturers also design their products without recycling in mind. Because they are not responsible, producers often make their products difficult to recycle, or have them include toxic materials (like BFRs) that make environmentally-responsible end-of-use management significantly challenging and dramatically weaken the viability of commercial end-markets.
  • Creating cost-savings for local governments and taxpayers
    Currently local governments pay for the management of unwanted furniture at a significant cost. They also pay to clean up furniture that has been disposed by the side of the road, a direct effect of drop-off fees from local governments trying to recoup some of the costs of managing unwanted furniture. Local governments have a financial interest in producers helping to pay for the costs of the post-consumer management of unwanted furniture.

Read the fact sheet to learn more.