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  • Writer's pictureEmily

The IKEA Upcycling Debate: Sustainability vs. Quality

Updated: Jul 29, 2023

I enjoy community events - I always end up speaking to someone thoroughly interesting, and often find my beliefs or perceptions challenged.

I regularly attend my local repair cafe (Southfields Mend, Fix & Repair Cafe), giving advice on furniture repairs to local residents. During the last event in June, I got speaking with a wonderfully thoughtful woman, Margaret, and her delightfully animated friend, Jun, and we sparked up an interesting debate on the topic of sustainability and, more specifically, whether we should upcycle IKEA furniture. Jun was adamant that IKEA furniture is low quality and isn't durable like solid wood furniture, and so we shouldn't waste our time upcycling it. Margaret's rebuttal was that if we don't upcycle it, it's going to end up in landfill. And there formed the content for my next blog post. Should we upcycle IKEA furniture? Let's explore.

First, let's address what makes IKEA furniture low quality. IKEA's furniture range mostly uses MDF over solid wood. MDF is more susceptible to wear and tear, but it's more affordable than solid wood - and it's the affordability of IKEA furniture that has made it so accessible to consumers. Some IKEA pieces may not withstand heavy use or frequent disassembling and reassembling, so buying second-hand IKEA products (whether to upcycle or not) can be a bit of a risk. However, IKEA furniture can still serve a purpose, especially for those on a budget.

So, what about sustainability? As the global population grows, so does the waste generated from discarded furniture. Landfills are filling up rapidly, and many furniture pieces contribute to this environmental burden. In fact, 22 million pieces of furniture are discarded every year in the UK alone, equating to 670,000 tonnes. Upcycling used IKEA furniture offers an eco-friendly solution by breathing new life into otherwise disposable items.

What does all this mean for professional upcyclers?

Furniture refurbishers like myself focus on providing high-quality, solid wood items that stand the test of time. Our mission is to ensure our customers can enjoy their piece for many years to come. While IKEA products undoubtedly cater to budget-conscious consumers, they may not always guarantee the durability that we strive to deliver. Don't get me wrong, we live for sustainability - but customer satisfaction is incredibly important to us too.

However, what I think should be encouraged, is for individuals to upcycle their own IKEA pieces (or even purchasing a second-hand IKEA piece to upcycle) for their own homes. You can personalise your piece to match your style, reducing the need to buy new pieces if you change your colour scheme, for example. This is a perfect, affordable option for DIY beginner upcyclers, and encourages sustainable practices, giving items a chance at a second life, minimising waste and conserving resources. So, if you feel inspired to embark on an upcycling journey with an IKEA gem, go ahead!

Ultimately, the debate encourages us to be more mindful of our consumption patterns. By embracing upcycling and reusing items, we can promote a circular economy and move towards a more eco-conscious and responsible future.

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