Fast Furniture Explained: Brands to Avoid and Sustainable Alternatives to Consider for Your Home


Fast furniture explained. Here’s what you need to know about the environmental impact of the fast furniture industry.

If you’re like me, you probably love curating a cozy and stylish living space that’s a true reflection of your personality. There’s something magical about finding that perfect couch, those charming side tables, and that Instagram-worthy decor piece that ties it all together. But let’s talk real talk for a moment – have you ever wondered about the story behind that furniture? You know, the one that made its way into your home so effortlessly, promising both chic aesthetics and wallet-friendly prices?

Gab your comfiest seat (hopefully one that’s planet-friendly!). In this guide, we’ll go over the ins and outs of fast furniture – the good, the not-so-good, and the ways we can strike that perfect balance between a dreamy home and a more sustainable world. After all, being an eco-conscious decor enthusiast has never been trendier.

What is fast furniture?

As you can probably tell by the name, fast furniture refers to inexpensive and quickly produced furniture that is designed to be affordable, trendy, and readily available for consumers. It’s no secret that social media platforms and home decor influencers have played a significant role in popularizing fast furniture. By showcasing stylish interiors and sharing affordable furniture finds, these platforms drive consumer interest and purchases. Just like fast fashion is often produced using cost-effective materials and manufacturing processes, allowing it to be sold at relatively low prices.

Manufacturers aim to bring new designs from concept to market at lightning speed. This involves streamlining production processes, utilizing standardized components, and employing efficient supply chain management.


What is the issue with fast furniture?

Unfortunately for us and the environment, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has some eye-opening stats. Americans toss out a whopping 12 million tons of home furnishings every year. The worst part? Out of that massive pile, a staggering 9 million tons of recyclable materials like glass, fabric, metal, and leather, somehow find their way to the dump. It’s a bit sad, but not surprising, that a lot of this waste comes from the so-called “fast furniture” – you know, the stuff that’s not meant to last long and ends up clogging landfills, just like fast fashion.

Speaking of which, ever since the 1960s, the amount of furniture waste has shot up nearly fivefold. And it’s no coincidence that the rise of fast furniture has gone hand in hand with this waste surge.

Their fabrics are loaded with not-so-friendly things like formaldehyde, neurotoxins, and heavy metals –aka the most notorious pollutants. Even the foam they use to stuff cushions is in on the toxin party. All these nasty chemicals can build up over time and lead to what’s known as “sick building syndrome,” which doesn’t sound like a party anyone wants to be a part of given that EPA actually says is worse than outdoor air pollution.

From posing a huge threat to our health to polluting the Earth with tones of hazardous chemicals, fast furniture is definitely a huge issue of concern. But, in order to understand exactly how damaging the industry can be, let’s have a closer look at the numerous environmental and social concerns that come along with the “affordable” price tag of fast furniture.

Why is fast furniture bad for the environment?


The Fast furniture industry is notorious for wreaking havoc on beautiful old-growth forests. A mind-boggling 7 billion trees get the axe every year, and the worst part is, they’re not getting replanted.  

Water waste

The manifacturing process requires extreme amounts of water. Unfortunately, a massive chunk of this water extravaganza goes down during the dyeing process, especially if there’s fabric involved. It takes a whopping 22 gallons of water to create a single pound of plastic. Now, picture all the plastic-based furniture out there, and you’ll start to see how our water consumption shoots through the roof!

Environmental Pollution

That brand-new cozy couch you just snagged? Well, it’s probably stuffed with polyurethane foam, which is like a toxic volcano ready to spew VOCs (that’s volatile organic compounds) right into your living space.  Flame retardants such as PBDEs (polybrominated fire retardant), are notorious for causing pesky toxic dust that’s even been spotted in breast milk. What’s more, the latter is particularly bad health impact on children as well. 


Human rights abuse in the fast furniture industry

The fast furniture industry, driven by its need to quickly produce and distribute products is no stranger to human rights violations. When it comes to furniture manufacturing, North America and Europe have put their foot down with some pretty tight regulations. But flip the globe to places like India, China, and Bangladesh, and you might stumble upon a whole different scene in the supply chain.

Workers are constantly exposed to hazardous materials without proper protective gear, leading to health risks. Low wages, long working hours, and lack of labor protections are common issues, particularly in countries with weaker labor regulations. Also, suppressing workers’ ability to unionize or collectively bargain can limit their ability to demand fair wages and better working conditions. In some cases, child labor might be used, which violates basic human rights and international labor standards.

But, who are these offenders that flood the market with cheaply-made and easily disposable fast furniture? Let’s get into it.

Worst fast furniture brands to avoid in 2023

IKEA – The world’s largest fast furniture company

One of the main pillars of IKEA’s business model is providing furniture and home products at affordable prices. This affordability is achieved through efficient production processes, cost-effective materials, and a global supply chain. Some of the materials used in IKEA products, such as wood and paper, have been sourced from areas linked to deforestation, habitat destruction, and loss of biodiversity. Unfortunately, the demand for cheap and readily available materials has led to concerns about the overuse and depletion of natural resources, including timber and water. Also, In certain regions, there have been allegations of poor working conditions and low wages in factories along IKEA’s supply chain. Instances of child labor and unfair labor practices have been reported in some of the company’s supply chain partners. Reports have highlighted the exploitation of migrant workers who may face precarious conditions and limited rights.

If that wasn’t enough, some IKEA products have been found to emit formaldehyde, a volatile organic compound (VOC) that can contribute to indoor air pollution and pose health risks.



Wayfair boasts an extensive selection of furniture and home decor items, making it a one-stop destination for consumers seeking a diverse range of products. The company has faced criticism for not being as transparent about its sustainability efforts compared to some other industry players. Plus, like many e-commerce platforms, Wayfair collaborates with a multitude of suppliers and manufacturers, which can make it challenging to maintain full supply chain transparency. This lack of transparency can lead to difficulties in verifying ethical labor practices and environmental sustainability in the production process.

Most notably, Wayfair has faced public backlash in the past for its association with controversial detention center furniture contracts, leading to employee protests and criticism from some customers. In response to such events, the company has expressed commitment to evaluating its business practices and ethical considerations.


Rooms To Go

As with any fast furniture retailer, Rooms To Go’s supply chain extends to various manufacturers and suppliers, potentially raising concerns about labor practices and working conditions. Ensuring ethical labor practices throughout the supply chain can be a challenge in the global manufacturing landscape. However, that’s not the only reason why this company has faced criticism. Some furniture sold at Rooms To Go has too high an amount of lead, officials say. So, it’s best to stay as far away as possible from this “affordable” company.


Ashley Furniture

Ashley Furniture is known for its ability to quickly bring new products to market. This speed in product development and introduction aligns with the fast furniture model’s focus on rapid response to consumer trends. Surpising-to-no-one, their marketing strategies emphasize limited-time offers, sales events, and promotions. Despite their massive popularity, however, the modern pieces are crafted with materials and finishes that contain harmful chemicals like formaldehyde and flame retardants, which can contribute to indoor air pollution and pose health risks. Also, still, we can’t really know for sure the origin of these materials or whether or not they’re sourced and created using ethical labor practices.

Best Sustainable Alternatives to fast furniture brands

1. Burrow

Price Range: $195-$2252

Sustainable Materials: Wood, strengthened steel hardware, and ethically-sourced Italian leather

You’ve probably come across Burrow’s chic couches making the rounds online lately. Known as a standout among the top eco-conscious furniture labels this year, they’re all about using sustainably sourced wood, robust steel hardware, and premium Italian leather to create their lineup of desks, chairs, sofas (which are stain-resistant and pet-friendly), ottomans, and rugs.

With their smart modular design that’s a breeze to rearrange, your chemical-free furniture not only upgrades your current space but fits seamlessly into your future one too! And the icing on the cake? They ship everything in packaging that’s totally recyclable.

2. Greenington

Price Range: $376 $2242

Sustainable Materials: Hand-harvested natural mature bamboo

If you’re on the hunt for wallet-friendly sustainable furniture brands to give your home an eco-conscious makeover, Geenington’s bamboo collection should definitely be on your radar.

This company specializes in crafting artisanal ethical furniture that covers all your bases – whether it’s for your living room, office, kitchen, or bedroom. And the cherry on top? They do it all in ISO 9001 certified factories. But here’s the real showstopper – this quickly renewable natural material happens to be tougher than steel, ensuring top-notch quality and lasting power.

When it comes to shades, you’ve got choices. Take your pick between the natural honey-toned bamboo or dive into their selection of deeper hues, all based on your personal style.

3. What WE Make

Price Range:  $1425-$2395

Sustainable Materials: Lightweight concrete, hand-welded metal, and old-growth wood

If the thought of decking out your home with wooden furniture that boasts a delightful blend of rustic charm and contemporary flair sparks your interest, then What WE Make’s lineup of eco-conscious furniture is bound to get your heart racing.

Renowned as one of the standout sustainable furniture brands in the industry, they’ve been creating a wide array of meticulously crafted pieces with environmentally-friendly finishes for more than 15 years. Their commitment to using ethically sourced, natural materials shines through, including their unique lightweight concrete blend, skillfully hand-welded metal, and well-aged wood. But here’s the extra special touch: their eco-friendly furniture isn’t just off-the-shelf; it’s tailor-made to order, drastically cutting down on material waste.

For more ethical and stylish options, check out our roundup of the best sustainable furniture brands on the eco market.

In conclusion

In a world where convenience and affordability often drive consumer choices, the impact of fast furniture cannot be overlooked. As we’ve explored the ins and outs of this trend, it’s evident that while fast furniture offers accessible design and quick solutions, it also raises pressing concerns. From environmental implications like resource depletion and waste generation to labor rights issues lurking within complex supply chains, the allure of cheap and trendy furniture comes with a price tag that extends beyond the dollar sign. So, as we move forward, we have the opportunity to redefine not just our living spaces, but also our impact on the world.

About Author

Konstantina Antoniadou

Freelance sustainability and fashion writer with an ongoing curiosity to explore new innovative technologies, and report on trends in “green” industries.