In a series of pilot programs recently launched, the Scandinavian furniture giant has urged customers to bring in old IKEA furniture – and rewarded them for doing so. Under IKEA's "Resource Chain Project," customers bringing old furniture to Ikea stores in France in Belgium were provided with vouchers they could use to buy new furniture. Old furniture is then recycled or re-sold.
IKEA thinks that there's a perception that because its products are seen as so affordable, they are also seen as disposable, which adds the the solid waste stream. Launched as part of the company's global green initiatives, IKEA hopes the test programs will challenge that view.
A research project into 3D printing of wood furniture and components is underway in Europe, launched by Vinnova, a Swedish government agency charged with finding new applications for forest products.
Furniture ending up in landfills is a big problem. In England alone, the Furniture Re-Use Network estimated that 10 million household items are sent to landfills every year.
IKEA says that in the coming years, it will launch initiatives that make it easier to access lost or broken parts. The company hopes to implement a 3D printer at every location, so customers whose furniture contains a missing or broken part can simply go in and have a replacement made quickly. Furniture blueprints will also be made available, so a customer with a printer can make a new part from home.
The goal is to educate customers to care for their products instead of throwing it away. IKEA does not expect the program to expand in the near future, but believes it could within a decade.
This year the IKEA is assessing the results of the new "Resource Chain Project," and examining ways returned products can be recycled into new, less expensive products. They want an old door or an old couch to be re-used in new products, but without any noticeable difference for customers.
IKEA says it hopes to create furniture that will “grow” with its user. As a child grows older, parents will no longer need a changing table, for example. IKEA hopes that the customer will be able to repurpose the table into something completely different, like a desk.
The company is also advocating for a "circular economy" - where waste is eradicated in a cycle of repair, reuse, refurbishment and recycling. IKEA says this would change the way materials are selected, the interaction between suppliers, the way products are made, and how it does business with customers.
Many know how big a problem furniture in landfills has become; IKEA is finding some customers are motivated to recycle their furniture even without vouchers, by a program that keeps their used furniture from going to a landfill. In Sweden, a program was launched which promised to recycle any plastic furniture, even if it wasn’t purchased at Ikea. It was hugely successful. Furniture owners only brought back broken furniture, and not just furniture they were bored with, Ikea said. People had been holding onto the furniture because they didn't know how to throw it away.
All of these changes are still in their pilot programs, but IKEA says they will be given the go-ahead quickly if they are successful.