Furniture Bank – Diverting Unwanted Furnishings from Landfill to Families in Need

Project Lead: Dan Kershaw

It’s difficult to place a value on parents, having lost or been forced to leave everything, being given the opportunity to pick out a bed and perhaps a small desk for their child before he starts at a new school and that’s what the Furniture Bank makes possible.

Since 1998 the Furniture Bank has worked to divert gently used furniture and household goods no longer suited to their owner’s tastes or lifestyle — the castoffs of downsizing and redecorating — from landfill.

We’ve all walked by that sofa on the curb and thought “Someone could use that, maybe with the coffee table two blocks over,’ knowing they’ll both get rained on before ending up at the dump. Indeed the 2016, Toronto Environmental Alliance report “Zero Waste Toronto: A Vision for Our City” estimated that reusable goods comprise 6% of all waste sent to GTA landfills and that a full 2% reduction could be achieved if new homes could be found for these items instead.

Yet great as the need for home furnishing and basic household equipment in the Greater Toronto Area is, the logistics of gathering and then distributing those out-of-favour sectionals and outgrown bunk-beds, (or that extra set of dishes you never use) are complicated. By 2004, the Furniture Bank found that demand for the goods — coming from community groups mostly serving newcomers, refugees, women leaving abusive relationships and the formerly homeless —  was vastly outstripping the supply.

The goods were certainly out there but people were unwilling or simply unable to bring them into the Furniture Bank and a new model had to found. The Furniture Bank’s Furniture Removal & Delivery Service proved to be the answer. Through the charity’s furniture pick-up service, donors are asked to cover the cost of moving the goods they’re passing along, knowing that 100% of their donation will then go directly on the families who very much need it.

While other charities raise funds by operating thrift stores stocked with donated goods, the Furniture Bank currently funds nearly 60% of their charity costs through this social enterprise of charging fees for delivery. The end result is that every day volunteers work personally with 20 families, helping them turn empty apartments into homes.

In 2013 the Furniture Bank launched a recycling Project to recover metals and other materials, meaning that in 2016 close to 75 thousand kilograms of metal, electronics and cloth was diverted from landfill. Their Workshop Studio, an initiative begun in 2015, provides youth with employment opportunities by training them to repair, refinish and reupholster donated furniture not yet suitable for the families the charity serves.

In just 20 years the Furniture Bank and its supporters and volunteers have helped nearly 40,000 families start over, while keeping nearly 1.5 million kilograms of what could be the building block of someone’s new life out of the dump.

Overall, the Furniture Bank’s work has seen 6.5 million kilograms of CO2 diverted from landfill each year, and converted into hope.