The Ultimate Guide to Shopping for Sustainable Garden Furniture - The Gloss Magazine
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The Ultimate Guide to Shopping for Sustainable Garden Furniture

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Holly Hughes, saving the planet, one sun lounger at a time …

Outdoor spaces have become indelibly precious to us. Those of us who have had the luxury of a garden over the past year know its worth. However, due to the flippant temerity of our Irish weather, these outdoor spaces often become the junkyards of feverish Aldi purchases and rusting garden furniture bought exuberantly in April then left to rot in November drizzle. Too often our outdoor furniture, unable to withstand the ferocious tempestuousness of our seasons, becomes rusted and warped within a year of its purchase, ending up in landfill where it will either be incinerated or left, as non-recyclable, nonbiodegradable plastic always must, to imprint on this earth long after we have stopped using it.

Is it possible to source sustainable, low-impact outdoor furniture? More than this, is it possible to do so without sacrificing aesthetics and comfort? I believe so. All it takes is a willingness to research and prioritise resilience over convenience. Looking at wood, steel and recycled plastics, here are some things to keep in mind when purchasing outdoor furniture this summer.

When it comes to wood, look for durable varieties that are sustainably procured and proven to be hardwearing. Teak is typically touted as the prime wood to meet these credentials. While it can be a tad pricey, its cost is relative to its lifespan. An extremely hard timber that, due to its natural occurring oils, is able to withstand rain, strong sunlight, freezing conditions and fluctuating temperatures, teak, when correctly maintained, can easily last 20 years, making it ideal for Irish gardens. The caveat is to ensure any wood you purchase is independently FSC-certified as being grown and harvested in an environmentally responsible manner. It is worth mentioning that most teak is grown in South and Southeast Asia, necessitating a long journey to our Irish shores.

While stainless steel demands high energy inputs during production, its footprint is mitigated by the fact that steel furniture is strong, easily maintained and resists corrosion, is often made from recycled materials and is recyclable again after use. Therefore, if you are looking to invest in items you hope to maintain and enjoy for many years (before conscientiously disposing of them) stainless steel is a solid choice that offers a significant environmental return for its original harmful impact.

When it comes to wood, look for durable varieties that are sustainably procured and proven to be hardwearing.

With all of these materials however, the devil is in the detail. Wood furniture is often interwoven with plastic fibres to lend it durability and strength, thereby nullifying its environmental credentials. Stainless steel is often used for the frame of garden items that are then topped with plastic sides or seats, again turning a sustainable solution into a problematic question. Equally, when buying seat or lounger cushions or parasols, we can undo our conscientiousness by going for vinyl (PVC), polyester and acrylic options that, while water-resistant, are also resistant to decomposition, thereby scarring the planet with their infinite immortality. For natural, durable, and cheap alternatives, think canvas, which is made from cotton or linen, and jute, bamboo and sisal.

There is a place for plastic furniture in our gardens in the shape of recycled plastic options. Recycled plastic or high-density polyethylene (HDPE) furniture offers all of the benefits we expect from regular plastic – impervious to weather, low maintenance, doesn’t rot, splinter or crack – but with the added benefit of repurposing otherwise unusable plastic while preventing more from being created. Better again, recycled plastic products – which often imitate the appearance of wood – are widely available in Ireland. Irish Recycled Products and Murray’s Recycled Plastic are two Irish companies with decades of experience who offer recycled plastic outdoor furniture. Irish Recycled Products’ garden sets, planters, raised beds, gazebos and benches come with a 20-year guarantee (and a tally of the number of plastic bottles used to make each item).

More small Irish businesses offering sustainable outdoor wares include The Store Room, an online shop selling everything from teak benches to reclaimed garden ornaments, and Home Street Home, which sells 100 per cent sustainably and ethically sourced or upcycled outdoor pieces, many by Irish designers.

As a nation, we are known for our impulsiveness at the first hint of sun. While I enjoy our ability to lose the run of ourselves at the mere mention of sunshine, this year, we could defy habit and hysteria and invest in items that will serve our happiness, our gardens, and our planet’s future. Change outdoor lighting to solar-powered bulbs. Reupholster a tatty chair rather than putting it in a skip. Ask friends and neighbours for garden castoffs before losing yourself in the heady euphoria of online shopping. Restore. Refurbish. And then, if still in need of the perfect armchair for an evening aperitif, or a table fit to accommodate the first “legal” summer barbecue, do a bit of research. @holly_hughes_words

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