When seeking quality outdoor furniture that will last, even if neglected or exposed to harsh elements, be sure to consider the latest advances in sustainable materials and manufacturing.
We recently attended a live stream of a young, innovative company that produces eco-friendly and sustainable outdoor furniture. Though the knowledgeable hosts were highly engaged and responsive to their enthusiastic online audience, at the end of the session, we realized that we still had several questions that warranted further investigation:
- Are recycled, sustainable, eco-friendly outdoor products, really durable?
- Water resistant?
- Sun resistant?
- Wind resistant?
- Easy to maintain?
- Do the benefits of sustainable outdoor furniture justify the high costs?
- How long can these products last with year-over-year exposure to the harsh elements?
These are all valid concerns, as we have recently developed a love/hate relationship with canvas-based outdoor furniture (AKA “sling” chairs) that, although they can be costly, do not endure for long periods of time. Even when not in use, canvas will be worn down by harmful UV rays and inclement weather, such as humidity.
We have spent countless hours attempting to find a company to replace our worn canvas slings, only to discover that such repairs would cost more than new replacement chairs – and would take anywhere from 4 to 8 weeks!
On our quest to find more durable, reasonably-priced outdoor furniture, we revisited the sustainable, eco-friendly category and were surprised at the number of vendors, products and options that are currently available.
Our focus has been primarily on Efficient Sourcing and Durability. When it comes to outdoor products, we are looking for quality products that are efficiently manufactured, with long lifespans.
The Benefits of Sustainable Outdoor Furniture
After researching multiple companies and reviewing countless product reviews we are sold on the many benefits of sustainable outdoor furniture. Most of these benefits can be neatly grouped under the following categories:
- Low Maintenance
- Efficient & Responsible Sourcing
- Aesthetic Appeal, Comfort & Flexibility
Here are the truly impressive traits that make sustainable outdoor furniture durable and easy to maintain:
- Stain Resistant
- UV Resistant
- Weather Resistant
- Mildew & Mold Resistant
- Wind Resistant
- Salt Resistant
- Pest Resistant
- Rust Resistant
Primary Materials Used in Sustainable Outdoor Furniture
Here is an overview of the three most prominent materials used in sustainable outdoor furniture. Their order coincides with starting with the material easiest to maintain and most durable (plastic) to materials requiring incrementally more maintenance, but offering enhanced aesthetics (aluminum and wood).
- Recycled Plastic
- Recycled Aluminum
- Reclaimed and FSC Certified Wood
Recycled milk jugs and other heavy plastic containers from the recycling bin and waste landfills are an excellent material for outdoor furniture production. The finished product known as PET or Polyethylene Terephthalate, resists moisture, mildew, staining and UV damage. These properties make PET-manufactured furniture excellent candidates for outdoor chairs, tables, rugs and other weatherproof décor, such as wall hangings.
If you are looking for some of the following traits, outdoor furniture made of recycled plastic may be the perfect fit:
- Wide Choice of Colors
- Child Friendly (safe and tamper resistant)
- Lightweight for Easy Mobility
- Eclectic Choice of Pieces & Applications
- Minimal Maintenance
On the other hand, plastic may not be a good fit if your outdoor is prone to heavy winds, without convenient means to secure or store your furniture quickly and safely.
Aluminum is one of the most recycled materials in production today and uses very little energy to transform into its next life. Nearly 75% of all aluminum produced in the US is still in use in some form today, demonstrating its eco-friendly and sustainable traits that make it such a popular material. Powder-coated Aluminum is naturally resistant to rust and requires low maintenance year after year, despite being exposed to the natural elements. Consider some of the heavier aluminum pieces, as opposed to light-weight, cheaper alternatives. Keep easy-care aluminum in mind when needing to shop at more traditional sellers of outdoor furniture, too, as this material certainly is sustainable, even if merchants may not promote it as such.
Reclaimed and FSC Certified Wood
Perhaps our favorite for elegance and beauty is outdoor furniture made from reclaimed wood. Many manufacturers use reclaimed woods and FSC (Forest Stewardship Council) certified or responsibly sourced materials to create outdoor pieces made of wood that are expected to stand the test of the elements, year after year.
This type of furniture lends itself to sophisticated, luxurious collections. Since wood is a highly renewable resource, you can enjoy bamboo, teak, mahogany, mango and eucalyptus furniture with zero guilt, as these woods are harvested responsibly, without harming the planet. Bamboo is especially valuable to the industry for its fast growing properties. If treated before each season, wood can prove to be highly durable, stain-, UV-, and weather-resistant, providing lasting beauty for years.
Companies Offering Eco-Friendly Outdoor Furniture
Plow & Hearth
With some of the most elegant sustainable furniture, Plow & Hearth offers a collection of eco-friendly, dining and lounging furniture made of wood, aluminum or high-density Polyethylene Terephthalate (PET). Choose from various outdoor collections or find one of a kind pieces such as mango wood bar stools or Edwin Lutyens inspired eucalyptus wood porch swings. We are particularly fond of the eucalyptus wood rolling outdoor bar cart which is reviewed at the 7:55 mark in this video.
“Stylish & Built to Last” is the theme behind Polywood’s collection of outdoor, sustainable furniture. With 20-year residential warranties on its products, the company demonstrates a willingness to stand behind their marine-grade quality items. Assuaging our concerns of UV resistance and low maintenance, the proprietary Polywood lumber is resistant to cracks, chips, peels, and rot. The lumber also cleans easily with soap, water and a soft bristle brush.
With numerous collections and pieces, for both outdoor dining and lounging, made of sustainable wood and recycled plastics, West Elm is perhaps the largest retailer of recycled cotton-backing, viscose rugs for the outdoors. Many of the rug products are sourced from India, where they are weaved from materials created by recycling plastic bottles. The handwoven designs provide a level of uniqueness unparalleled by their mass produced, machine-made counterparts. A popular example of their sustainable rugs is the Reflected Diamonds Indoor/Outdoor Rug, which is reversible, easy to care for and durable.
For stylish and high quality products with budget-friendly pricing, YardBird is perhaps the eco-friendliest of outdoor furniture producers. In addition to cleaning up waste environments on beaches, waterways and highly susceptible locations, the company uses these plastics to incorporate into their wicker lounge and dining collections. According to their website, over 150,000 pounds of intercepted, plastic material, collected was used in their furniture and packaging in 2020 alone. That is the true definition of sustainable and eco-friendly!
Breezesta/ Casual Living Unlimited
Similarly, Breezesta removes tons of petroleum-based milk jugs and water bottles from America’s waste streams and converts them to a material known as “poly lumber” at their proprietary recycling plant. One of the oldest sustainable outdoor furniture producers, established in 1999, Breezesta, the brand made by Casual Living Unlimited offers unique designs for terrace and balconies, as well as full outdoor lounge and dining premium recycled outdoor collections. We are especially enamored with their Elementz Fire and Ice Table with its center ice bucket or fire pit built in.
Founded in 2017, Outer’s mission is to enable people to spend more time enjoying their backyards, decks and patios, through the reinvention of outdoor furniture. They are focused on two areas of innovation: product design and the retail landscape. They are disrupting the typical product manufacturing workflow by not relying on externally produced materials, which keeps their quality high and costs low.
The other side of Outer’s innovation is their Neighborhood Showroom program, which is an incentive program for their customers to showcase their Outer furniture to prospective buyers, as well as to share their first-hand experiences. While financially empowering their customer base, Outer is also eliminating the need to operate costly retail space. If Outer’s furniture successfully demonstrates reliable durability over many years, Outer’s field hosts will surely become powerful and convincing examples of smart furniture investments.
The top main image of this article is a stellar showroom example of how visually and experientally powerful real-life showrooms can be.
Plastic Lumber Yard
Since 1990, Plastic Lumber Yard has been converting plastic waste into building materials. By sourcing waste plastics from landfills, the company has reimagined milk jugs, shampoo and detergent bottles into outdoor furniture, pergolas, railing, roofing, fencing and anything else that would normally be comprised of wood. The resulting products are durable, low-maintenance, environmentally-friendly, and limited only by your imagination by what you can create by purchasing the raw “lumber”.
Additional Sustainable Outdoor Furniture Options
- Loll Designs
- Pottery Barn Sustainably Sourced Outdoor Furniture
- By the Yard
- Masaya & Co. Outdoor Furniture
- DutchCrafters Amish Outdoor Furniture
- Model No.
- Home Depot Eco-Friendly Patio Furniture
- Etsy Reclaimed Furniture
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