Picking the right outdoor furniture is a crucial part of creating a garden that’s not only lovely to look at, but fun to be in. More of us are becoming aware of our environmental impact, so those plastic chairs that we use for a summer and then ditch once they inevitably crack or break just aren’t going to cut it. Here’s how to choose the best eco-friendly garden furniture that’s not only better for the planet, but will make your outdoor space look great.
Buying sustainable furniture: From wood to bamboo to vintage
When looking for eco-friendly furniture, start by researching how sustainable the material is.
Wood is a popular material for sustainable garden furniture – which means you can easily check if it’s FSC (Forest Stewardship Council) certified. FSC-certified forests meet high environmental and social standards. Plantation teak, for example, is a renewable resource because it’s harvested and managed to produce a sustainable supply and is often FSC-certified. Fast-growing trees like pine are more sustainable than slow-growing trees like oak and therefore more likely to be certified.
Bamboo is a very popular sustainable material. It grows quickly and doesn’t require the use of pesticides (though bear in mind it’s only suitable for use when the weather is dry, so you’ll need to have somewhere to store it). It’s also worth finding out if there has been glue used in making bamboo furniture, as this can sometimes contain toxic chemicals like formaldehyde.
If a piece of furniture is considered to have a low impact on the environment, that usually means that non-renewable resources have been avoided during its manufacture, excess waste has been prevented and it is designed for recycling. The retailer should have details on the manufacturing process, so don’t be afraid to ask.
It’s also worth exploring furniture made from reclaimed materials. Reclaimed wood furniture is, unsurprisingly, made from wood that’s been used before, but the end result can be high-quality. Ask the retailer’s customer service team where the wood has come from – it may have a good story behind it, such as being used in historic buildings.
Salvage yards or reclamation yards are also a treasure trove for reclaimed garden furniture. Look out for garden statues and sets of steel or cast iron tables and chairs, which can be a good alternative to wood if you don’t have anywhere to store your furniture.
All-weather rattan furniture could be another option to buy – just check it’s made from 100% recycled plastic. Even metal, such as recycled steel and aluminium, could be considered for things like bistro tables and chairs - raw materials are not in short supply and they have a good scrap value, so they should be easy to recycle.
Caring for sustainable wooden furniture
When you buy your sustainable furniture, make sure to get advice from the retailer on how to care for it, as it will vary greatly depending on the material used. For example, teak furniture should never sit in water. You might also need to brush it every year to remove debris, or you might be advised to use a sealer after cleaning to replenish oil supplies and help prevent cracking. Teak can also change to a grey colour if left outside – this is natural and doesn’t mean the wood is damaged, but if you want the furniture to keep its warm tone it’s best to store inside when not in use.
Other woods, such as oak and redwood, should have been sanded and finished by the retailer, and they may recommend using a specialist treatment to protect against UV damage, rot, mould and insects.
For weekly cleans, follow our tips on how to clean garden furniture.
Making your own sustainable furniture
If you’re into DIY, you could explore making your own furniture for the garden. The principles laid out above are the same: just make sure the materials you plan to use have minimal impact on the environment.
If you’re a beginner, try using wood from dismantled pallets or shipping crates. These are fairly easy to source at a low cost. Woodworking tools are now much more effective than they used to be, so you can use any size of wood and join together with a professional biscuit joiner, which you can often hire from DIY or hardware stores.
Need further inspiration for your garden? Take a look at our bright ideas for outdoor living spaces.