(855) 321-7473

M-F 9am-5pm Eastern

Sustainable Outdoor Furniture

Choosing Outdoor Furniture with a Sustainability Lens

By Tobias RobertsRise Writer
Jun 5, 2018

Despite the late winter, spring is finally here from Minnesota to Maine to Montana. That means it is time to dust off the grill and bring out the outdoor furniture you had stored in stored away for the season. If those flimsy folding chairs and plastic lawn tables are on their last legs, it might be time to invest in some new quality outdoor furniture. Modern or reclaimed furniture will breathe new life into an outdoor space and help you enjoy the warmer days and longer nights. Below, we offer a complete rundown on what to look for in the most sustainable and earth-friendly outdoor furniture.

With indoor furniture, one of the most important considerations is exposure to potentially dangerous VOCs that off-gas into your home and compromise the healthiness of your indoor air quality. Since outdoor furniture is outdoors, VOCs are less of a concern. Understanding the pros and cons of the materials used in your outdoor furniture will help you to make a more educated choice regarding the most sustainable, healthy, and durable option.

outdoor wood furniture

Outdoor Wood Furniture

The main advantages of wood for outdoor furniture are two-fold. First, natural, rustic looks often go well with an outdoor patio setting. Second, wood furniture is sourced from trees, which are carbon neutral and a renewable resource. On the downside, wood furniture tends to be more expensive and also requires the most maintenance. Because the furniture is outdoors, exposure to the sun, rain, bugs, and other elements, without proper preservatives, wood will naturally fade into a grayish color. For maximum durability, some preservative is necessary to protect the wood from water, rot, or insect damage.

Unfortunately, most wood preservatives, stains, and lacquers are chemically intensive products. However, you could choose to cure and preserve your outdoor furniture with linseed oil or Tung oil, both of which are natural wood preservatives. In areas with long, wet rainy seasons, Timber Pro UV is a unique and naturally non-toxic preservative that protects the wood from water damage. A chemical reaction with the naturally occurring alkali in the wood's pores causes silicate glass crystals to form over the wood, thus protecting it from water.

Room & Board is one company specializing in outdoor wood furniture. Their Montego Collection includes everything from coffee tables to barstools to comfortable lounge chairs. They cleverly combine wood and metal options for a mix of durability and a rustic feel.

outdoor metal furniture
Photo Credit: Brich Lane

Outdoor Metal Furniture

The most common metal used for outdoor metal furniture is powder-coated aluminum. This material is extremely durable and is virtually rust-proof due to the powder coating on the plus side. Aluminum outdoor furniture should last a lifetime and can be easily welded should it break. On the downside, metal furniture options will be more expensive than their plastic counterparts. Aluminum has one of the highest embodied energy ratings of all the different building materials due to the mining and manufacturing process. The Australian government estimates that aluminum has an embodied energy rating of 170 PER embodied energy MJ/kg compared to just 2.4 for kiln-dried and sawed hardwood lumber.

outdoor plastic furniture
Photo Credit: DIY Network

Outdoor Plastic Furniture

If you are looking for an inexpensive option for outdoor furniture, plastic will most likely be the best option. Plastic outdoor furniture is waterproof, and when coated with a UV-protecting agent, it shouldn’t fade or warp in the hot sun. While it is incredibly lightweight (and thus easy to move around), plastic furniture will easily blow over in the wind and usually be the first to break. Plastic furniture is sourced from the petrochemical industry, which is a strike against sustainability.

wicker and rattan furniture

Wicker and Rattan Furniture

If you are lucky enough to live in an area with Amish or Mennonite farmers, chances are you might be able to find locally made wicker furniture. Amish communities are the standard for sustainability. Hand-made wicker furniture from these communities will most likely be sourced from local materials, made without power tools or chemicals, and support the local economy. While most wicker furniture is made from PVC or polyurethane substitutes, many Amish communities continue to make wicker furniture from the bendable shoots and branches of willow trees.

While this furniture option is certainly beautiful, sustainable, and local, you can expect to pay a bit more and will need to keep it in areas protected from rainfall. You can find authentic Amish wicker and rattan furniture online here.

The Plastic Lumber Yard recycled furniture
Photo Credit: The Plastic Lumber Yard

Furniture from Recycled Plastic

Homeowners interested in sustainability and the environmental impact of their homes might consider recycled outdoor furniture options. Every year, over 30 million tons of plastic waste is generated in the United States alone, and over 90% of that is not recycled. The amount of plastic waste has led to a massive pollution problem with huge “islands” of plastic floating in our oceans, leading to the death of up to 100,000 marine mammals each year. Several outdoor furniture manufacturers have been utilizing recycled waste, increasing the demand and the economic argument for recycling. The good news is that recycled plastic furniture is a great product: it is very easily cleaned and is extremely durable. Having the option to purchase this type of furniture makes choosing plastic a smarter choice for our environment.

The Plastic Lumber Yard

One unique variety of recycled outdoor furniture is offered by The Plastic Lumber Yard who manufactures a wide variety of outdoor furniture products from recycled milk jugs. These furniture chairs, tables, and benches are much sturdier than the cheaper polyurethane plastic chairs and tables. The recyclable option is a great way to keep plastic waste from entering landfills or our oceans.

Loll Designs

Loll Designs is another leading company in outdoor furniture, sourcing 100% recycled plastic milk jugs. This furniture is very sturdy, durable, and virtually maintenance-free. Loll Designs is a leading industry when it comes to environmental care. Since 2005, they have recycled more than 95 million milk jugs into modern outdoor furniture, and they dedicate 1% of all company earnings to forestry and environmental causes.

By The Yard

By the Yard is another company offering maintenance-free outdoor furniture options made from recycled plastic. They offer complete dining sets of all different heights and sizes. They are one of the few outdoor furniture companies that offer plastic gliding chairs and even outdoor trash receptacles.

Bottom line

When searching for the best outdoor furniture options to decorate your patio and yard this summer, it is important to weigh the pros and cons of the different options available to you. Opting for a company specializing in recycled plastic furniture is one way to add a new look to your yard while limiting your home's carbon footprint.

Disclaimer: This article does not constitute a product endorsement however Rise does reserve the right to recommend relevant products based on the articles content to provide a more comprehensive experience for the reader.Last Modified: 2021-07-10T05:17:35+0000
Tobias Roberts

Article by:

Tobias Roberts

Tobias runs an agroecology farm and a natural building collective in the mountains of El Salvador. He specializes in earthen construction methods and uses permaculture design methods to integrate structures into the sustainability of the landscape.