RecyclingWorks in Massachusetts developed the following best management practices for office and institutional furniture and equipment reuse. In the spring of 2018, RecyclingWorks convened a series of meetings with commercial, institutional, and municipal stakeholders and office furniture and equipment service providers. These meetings, held at the Devens Eco-Efficiency Center in Devens on May 3, 2018, EcoBuilding Bargains in Springfield on May 17, 2018, and The Furniture Trust in Boston May 24, 2018, sparked conversations about best practices for the reuse of office furniture, the roles different service providers play in the furniture and equipment removal and reuse process, and end-of-life considerations. To expand on the information collected during the meetings, RecyclingWorks also conducted outreach to service providers that were unable to attend the meetings and to office furniture and equipment exchange and reuse organizations across the United States. The information gained from stakeholder meetings and interviews was used to create this guidance document.
This document is intended to be a resource for corporations, institutions such as colleges and universities, schools, and hospitals, property managers responsible for commercial buildings, and state facilities with surplus furniture and equipment. If you are affiliated with a state facility, please begin by reviewing the specifics outlined in the State Facilities section.
Benefits of Reuse
Businesses that connect surplus furniture with a reuse outlet:
- Make a positive environmental impact by diverting office furniture and equipment from disposal.
- Enrich communities by providing furniture to businesses and individuals that need it.
- Frequently save money when compared to the cost of disposal.
Connecting surplus furniture and equipment with a reuse outlet benefits the environment both by preventing the environmental impacts of disposal, and by providing the recipient with an alternative to purchasing (and thus, production) of new products. According to the EPA’s data on durable goods, furniture is currently one of the least recycled goods in the U.S., with 10 million tons of furniture sent to landfill every year, mostly in the form of wood and steel. Like other landfill waste, these materials decompose anaerobically, which produces harmful greenhouse gases such as methane (CH4), a greenhouse gas 21 times more potent than carbon dioxide, and leaches toxic materials into soil and groundwater. The remainder of furniture waste, over 2 million tons, is sent to waste to energy plants to be incinerated for energy, releasing both carbon dioxide (CO2) and nitrous oxide (N20) into the air. Diverting furniture from disposal through reuse prevents the release of these harmful pollutants.
Choosing reuse over disposal also prevents the deleterious environmental impacts of manufacturing, transporting, and selling new furniture and equipment. This includes preventing the release of greenhouse gases from the harvesting, processing, packaging, and transportation of materials. This also reduces the pollution of air and water through mining and other material extraction processes. If not managed properly, tree harvesting for wood furniture can reduce the density of forests that play an important role in the sequestration of carbon.
Community, Social, and Corporate
Surplus furniture and equipment that is made available to organizations that may not be able to afford new furniture can enrich communities locally, nationally, and internationally. Surplus furniture can be especially beneficial to charitable organizations that serve economically-disadvantaged populations or communities affected by natural disasters.
Connecting surplus furniture to a community in need can serve as an excellent story that demonstrates a company’s commitment to the community and the environment. News of your donation can be shared with local and regional media outlets, colleagues, and customers, and can be a source of pride for your business or institution.
The United States Environmental Protection Agency estimates that U.S. businesses and institutions pay to dispose of more than 8.5 million tons of office assets each year. Meanwhile the cost of disposal is rising every year and is projected to rise another 6 percent by 2021. Fortunately, businesses and institutions are recognizing that selecting reuse over disposal may help reduce deposition costs. IRN’s The Reuse Network provides many case studies illustrating these savings, including Boston Spaulding Rehabilitation Hospital. During a move in 2013, the hospital identified reuse outlets for 1,781 surplus items, which saved the hospital 50% of the cost it would have paid for disposal.
Additionally, the Business and Institutional Furniture Manufacturer’s Association (BIFMA) estimates that businesses and institutions spent $15.83 billion on the procurement of commercial furniture equipment in 2016. Organizations can save money by purchasing used furniture and equipment. See the section on Procurement Best Practices for more information.
To help manage the logistical considerations of reuse efforts, it is critical to create a plan for unwanted furniture and equipment as early as possible. When replacing pieces of furniture or equipment, planning should begin before purchasing replacement items. For large-scale projects, this should happen during the initial project planning phase. Start with the checklist below to ease the planning process and review the following sections for more detail on establishing a timeline and developing a detailed inventory.
- Identify relevant stakeholders and communicate your intention to make reuse a priority. It’s important to work together closely with any partners involved to make sure that everyone understands why reuse is important. Some common partners include:
- Design team including the architect, interior designer, etc.
- Construction/demolition contractors
- Internal stakeholders, such as
- Building/facility managers
- Procurement department
- Marketing and/or communications department
- Sustainability coordinator or staff “Green Team”
- Establish a project timeline.
- Develop a detailed inventory.
Establishing a Project Timeline and Budget
To ensure that your furniture and equipment is effectively diverted from disposal and reused, planning ahead is key. Although there isn’t a universal rule of thumb for how early to start planning, service providers are usually able to better accommodate clients who are not limited by tight timelines. By allowing extra time for your reuse project, you have access to more potential outlets than you do when you wait until the last minute. For this reason, planning ahead increases the likelihood that you will find an outlet interested in accepting surplus items, and save money when compared to disposal.
For smaller projects, start thinking about what will happen to your unwanted items as soon as you decide to order replacement furniture and equipment. For larger renovations and construction projects, furniture reuse and its implications should be a part of the initial conversation with designers, architects, contractors, and other partners when discussing timeline and budget.
Establish your project budget early, recognizing that there are costs associated with the movement, storage, and transportation of materials regardless of whether they are being reused, recycled, or disposed of in the trash. Compared to the cost of disposal, outlets that facilitate reuse often help businesses and institutions save money. However, the potential savings vary depending both on the outlet and the makeup of your inventory.
Labor costs to move furniture and equipment out of the building may be greater when the destination is reuse rather than disposal because of the extra time and care required to handle items without damaging them and to carefully disassemble larger pieces. Be aware that it may cost more if you are in a location where it is required to use skilled union labor for commercial moving. Avoid any unexpected expenses by accounting for these variables starting at the beginning of your project.
You may also choose a reuse outlet with decommissioning services, which take a multi-faceted approach to furniture and equipment reuse, charging clients a fee to facilitate the removal, refurbishing, donation, resale, and/or recycling of all surplus items. When using decommissioning services, you should plan ahead several months in advance to allow enough time for success. Decommissioning fees generally include transportation and storage. The total cost savings for choosing decommissioning over disposal is highly dependent on the value of the furniture and equipment.
Developing a Detailed Inventory
An inventory of what surplus furniture and equipment you have, what condition it is in, and where it is located provides the foundation for facilitating a smooth process for finding these items a new home. Typically, businesses create a spreadsheet of items, organized by location in the building, which includes several key pieces of information about each type of furniture. Ideally, include a photograph of each item to clearly illustrate what is available. Some decommissioning service providers develop this inventory as part of their services. This can save you time but also increases the cost.
If creating your own inventory, collect the following information on each piece of surplus furniture and equipment. This can be a good project for interns or student workers.
- Type of item
- Office chair, conference room table, etc.
- Quantity of each item type
- How many chairs, desks, etc.?
- Was it purchased from a well-known design house or from a discount box store?
- Is it commercial grade?
- Is it in like new, good, fair, or poor condition?
- Is it free of stains and scratches, and does it sit level on the ground?
- Are all mechanical components functional? E.g., do drawers glide easily?
- What is the height, width, and length?
- Detailed description
- Color and/or pattern. Is it in style?
- What materials is it made of? If wood, is it solid wood, plywood, or particle board? Is the item upholstered?
- Note the make & model number if this information is readily available.
- Photographing each type of item is the best way to clearly communicate what is available
Click here to download a template for taking inventory of your items.
In addition to documenting surplus items and their location(s), also take note of what will impact the logistics of removing furniture from the building. For instance, take note of whether there is a loading dock. If not, indicate building entrances and locations where one or more trucks can park while loading. If the building has multiple stories, note whether there is an elevator.
Your project timeline, budget, and inventory inform which outlet(s) may be feasible in your situation. Since there is no one-size-fits-all solution for determining the appropriate option(s), look into several outlets to find the best fit for your surplus items. Each section below includes a summary table that describes what circumstances are typically the best fit for each outlet. Click here to view a full comparison table that describes each type of reuse outlet.
If you are dispensing of surplus property from a state facility, please skip to the State Facilities section for information on the State Surplus Property Program, state contracts relevant to the dispersal of surplus property, and the Uniform Procurement Act.
Furniture and equipment may be reused internally in different configurations, departments, or buildings. Internal reuse is often most viable for large businesses and institutions with multiple facilities, as it is contingent on an organization’s need for the furniture. Furniture in need of repair may also be sent to be refurbished and then returned for internal reuse. Internal reuse can offer substantial cost-savings, as it eliminates both the cost of disposal and the procurement of new items. It generally involves coordination across the organization and thus requires good internal communication channels. Access to on-site storage can help facilitate on-site reuse; however, if storing surplus items, make sure they are well-catalogued so that there is a record of surplus furniture on hand. Assorted items stored in a basement or storage room tend to remain unused unless there is clear documentation on precisely what has been stored for future use.
Providing surplus items to local outlets can provide cost-savings while also making a positive impact on the community and providing businesses and institutions with a “feel-good” story to share. Potential local recipients of surplus furniture include reuse businesses (e.g. Salvation Army, Habitat for Humanity ReStores, Devens EcoEfficiency Center), nonprofits, small businesses, schools, municipalities, or swap shops. Furniture may also be donated to vocational-technical schools for repair or refurbishment and then reuse. Consider using social media to broadcast available surplus materials directly to members of your community. Many local outlets are particularly interested in furniture that can be used in a residential setting, such as couches, chairs, bookshelves, and desks.
There are a variety of reuse outlets that specialize in matching surplus furniture with communities in need in the United States and internationally. Through networks of charitable and nonprofit organizations, these outlets connect surplus materials with recipients, such as schools and individuals impacted by poverty or a natural disaster. Because recipient agencies often subsidize transportation costs, the cost of working with these outlets tends to be similar to or less expensive than disposal. These outlets are often a one-stop option that will take large quantities of furniture of all types and conditions. They will find placement for functional items, refurbish broken items, and recycle items not suitable for reuse. In addition to connecting surplus materials to recipients in need, these outlets may offer full decommissioning services at an additional cost.
Businesses with high-quality surplus furniture and equipment may be able to resell or liquidate items through a third party. High-quality furniture that is in-style and “like new” condition has the best market for liquidation. Particularly high quality items can be refurbished if they are worn or out of style. If you have a variety of surplus items, you may need to identify alternative outlets for less valuable items. Furniture liquidators often collect items directly from your facility, so there is generally no need for storage or transportation.
Auction houses offer a less expensive outlet for high-quality items. They will photograph, publicize, and execute an auction for your business, live and/or online. Auction houses keep a percentage of the profits or charge a flat fee, but are typically able to secure a larger return for items than other outlets. However, usually only a small fraction of a business or institution’s surplus is appropriate for auction. So, even if auctioning some items, most entities will need to find other outlets for other surplus items, adding time and complexity to disposition.
State Surplus Property Program
All surplus furniture and equipment belonging to Massachusetts state facilities must be processed through the State Surplus Property Program. This program is managed by the Operational Services Division and regulates how surplus items, including office equipment and furniture, can be offered to Executive Departments, municipalities, licensed non-profits, and the public. State facilities should follow the checklist below, and contact the State Surplus Property Office at (617) 720-3170 for additional assistance.
- Declare Surplus Property – State facilities must declare any surplus property that is either no longer needed, being replaced, damaged, or beyond repair to the State Surplus Property Office by completing a Declaration of Surplus Property – OSD 25 Form.
- Items are added to the State Surplus Property Listing and compared with requests for surplus property from other Executive Departments.
- After 30 days, unclaimed surplus property will be offered to cities and towns for an administration fee that is based on the item’s age, condition, and acquisition value or original cost. Similarly, licensed non-profit organizations are eligible to acquire surplus property after 50 days of publication for the same fee.
- After 60 days, the State Surplus Property Office Coordinator will determine whether any materials not claimed through the State Surplus Property Program can be auctioned or donated.
After proceeding through the State Surplus Property Program, state facilities may be able to work with a reuse service provider through a Statewide Contract (SWC) or by utilizing the state’s Uniform Procurement Act (Chapter 30B).
Statewide Contracts Relevant for Furniture & Equipment Reuse
If your facility has surplus furniture and equipment that remains unclaimed through the State Surplus Property Program, you may use vendors from any of the following state contracts to find outlets for furniture or equipment. If using a state contract, the facility does not need to meet the requirements outlined by the state Uniform Procurement Act (Chapter 30B).
- FAC86 – Solid Waste and Recycling Services Statewide Contract User Guide (Updated: 11/20/18). The contract includes disposal of property that was not transferred to any other eligible entity and has been deemed worthless. This contract includes IRN: The Reuse Network.
- FAC96 – Records Management, Storage and Archiving Services and Moving Services Statewide Contract (Updated: 11/20/18). This contract guide explains that any state department seeking obsolete furniture removal services should use the Solid Waste and Recycling Services contract currently identified as FAC86-Category 2 Bulky Waste. This contract also includes moving services.
- FAC90 – Carpet and Mattress Recycling Services Statewide Contract. This contract includes Ace Mattress Recycling, Raw Material Recovery Corp and United Teen Equality Center (UTEC). While this is not a reuse contract, this provides recycling services for carpet and mattresses that are not fit for donation.
- FAC82 – Hazardous/Universal, Medical, Electronic Waste Disposal and Emergency Response Statewide Contract. While this is not a reuse contract, this contract provides electronics recycling services for electronics that cannot be reused or donated.
Uniform Procurement Act (Chapter 30B)
State facilities with furniture or equipment unclaimed through the State Surplus Property Program that do not wish to utilize a state contract must follow the procedures outlined in the Uniform Procurement Act (Chapter 30B) to find outlets for their items.
Under Chapter 30B, state facilities must use specific procedures for disposition, which include resale, donation, recycling, or disposal, according to the monetary value of the items. Items over seven years of age are considered to be devalued. Items under seven years should be appraised for their current resale or salvage value. After appraisal, for supplies with a resale or salvage value of less than $10,000, the facility may find an outlet using sound business practices, using written procedures approved by the facility. For supplies valued at $10,000 or more, the state facility may offer the items through a competitive sealed bid, public auction (via Municibid) or established markets. These items must also be advertised through specific advertising protocol. See the Chapter 30B law for more detail.
According to Chapter 30B, state facilities may also donate items to 501(C)(3) organizations and thereby avoid needing to follow the Chapter 30B procedures. They must ensure that the donation act does not violate the Anti-Aid Amendment. State facilities may also donate items to other government bodies, in state or out of state, without following Chapter 30B process.
For items in poor condition that are not suitable for reuse or repair, consider recycling or safe disposal options.
If items are not suited for reuse or repair, consider sending them to be recycled. Items may be recycled through recycling outlets or with outlets that are collecting your other items for reuse. Metal furniture is the easiest to recycle, as metal retains its value through processing and maintains stable end markets. Mattress recycling is an emerging market; mattress recyclers, such as Ace Mattress Recycling, Raw Material Recovery Corp and United Teen Equality Center (UTEC), disassemble mattresses and connect the metal springs, wood, and textiles to end markets. A majority of wood furniture is not recyclable as it is either stained or includes adhesives, and does not have a recycling outlet like clean wood.
For furniture that is in very poor condition with no recycling market, you will need to identify a safe disposal outlet. This may also be the only outlet for certain furniture items that have been treated with lead-based paint or flame retardants, which are hazardous to people’s health, precluding them from reuse.
It is also important to consider the long-term impact of furniture and equipment at the time of procurement. It may be appropriate to reevaluate your furniture supplier to align with your organization’s sustainability goals.
Purchasing used furniture and equipment can result in significant financial savings, often as much as 60-80%. Some reused furniture retailers are included on statewide procurement contracts, and savings may be even greater for state agencies, municipalities, and non-profit organizations that have access to those contracts. Purchasing used items prevents them from being thrown away and reduces the need for additional furniture production, which saves materials and reduces upstream carbon impacts.
Businesses should also aim to purchase durable furniture, which extends the life of your items and will reduce the number of items going to landfill.
Some manufacturers provide disassembly instructions, parts that can be easily-replaced, take-back programs, or end-of-life recycling programs. Items that can be easily repaired or modified with replacement parts can offer a savings over purchasing a new replacement. Dedicated take-back or end-of-life recycling programs reduce the amount of reusable or recyclable furniture that is sent for disposal after its useful service lifetime.
Below is a list of additional resources and organizations. If you have any questions about diverting furniture or office equipment from disposal, call the RecyclingWorks hotline at 1-888-254-5525 or email info@RecyclingWorksMA.com.
*Outlet provides decommissioning services
Devens Eco-Efficiency Center
Fresh Start Furniture
Habitat for Humanity ReStores
New Life Furniture Bank
Northeast Reuse Marketplace
The Furniture Trust*
Conklin Office Furniture
Creative Office Pavilion
Davies Office Furniture
Kentwood Office Furniture
Net Five Seconds Office Furniture, LLC
Northeast Material Handling
Northeast Office Solutions
Office Furniture Center*
For recycling assistance, or to provide feedback about these guidelines, please contact RecyclingWorks at (888) 254-5525 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Page last modified April 30, 2019