What if consumer demand could help remake the $10 billion interior design industry into something more earth conscious and less status conscious? We found a social enterprise in Nashville that proves beautiful and sustainable can go hand-in-hand.
Chances are you’re confined to your house right now, so it’s the perfect time to take a look around your living room and ask: How many of the items that you see are 100 percent recycled?
Most likely the answer is zero.
That’s because the home décor industry is notoriously unsustainable. Virgin materials are the norm, and glossy design magazines encourage changing tastes and rapid replacement cycles. Those beautiful new accent pieces from 2015 might appear totally dated in 2020, and so we literally throw them out and start over.
“You can create a beautiful home with goods that were once part of a beautiful home.”
According to the EPA, Americans send nearly 10 million tons of home furnishings to the landfill every year. That’s 10 million tons of wood, glass, metal, cotton, wool, and more. Things that were recently new and beautiful, now reduced to garbage.
A few years ago, five stylish friends in Nashville started wondering where they could find recycled items for their homes. They were looking to reduce their carbon footprint, and recycled home décor seemed like a good place to start. But it turns out that finding 100 percent recycled items for the home isn’t as easy as you’d think.
That’s how Newly Goods was born. Though the friends started on their quest four years ago, it took a full two years to work out a supply chain that met their standards for sustainability. Yes, it’s that hard to find recycled and repurposed home goods.
Getting to 100 percent
“You can find products here and there that are 30 percent or 40 percent recycled, but the goal at Newly was to offer 100 percent of products that are 100 percent recycled,” explains Hannah Runkel, the company’s director of marketing. “There’s still nobody else doing that.”
Newly’s well-edited product line is growing, but still small — a testament to the difficulty of sourcing recycled home décor. Take glassware, for instance: Curbside glass recycling has been gradually phased out across Tennessee. Newly goes all the way to Spain to find its tumblers, highballs, votives, and pitchers, because Spain is far ahead of the U.S. in glass recycling.
It turns out glass is infinitely recyclable, but that requires a different manufacturing infrastructure than virgin glass – different kilns, different processing, different knowledge-base. While 100 percent recycled glass products yield significant environmental and resource savings, they do cost slightly more, from an exclusively financial perspective, to produce.
Hannah says the company is supporting public policy options to bring glass recycling back to Tennessee, but educating consumers is another key piece of the puzzle. American shoppers are used to seeing clear glass, while the recycled version has a distinctive, sea foam green hue. But once consumers learn to appreciate the beauty of recycled glass — which isn’t hard to do after a quick glance at Newly’s website or social channels — then tastes begin to change, demand increases, and recycling makes more economic sense.
In other words, never underestimate the power of consumer demand.
No More ‘Fast Fashion’
Textiles are another example of Newly’s commitment to sustainable, recycled home décor. The company features a line of blankets made from recycled plastic that is broken down, spun into a polyester thread, and combined with recycled cotton yarn.
The result is a throw that’s remarkably soft, stylish, and inviting, yet also good for the planet. Making a single blanket from virgin materials takes 2250 gallons of water, including growing the cotton, washing, dyeing, etc. Newly’s recycling process requires almost zero water, so the young company has already saved nearly 2 million gallons of water and diverted the equivalent of some 11,000 plastic bottles from the landfill.
Newly is actively working to increase its product range, but that doesn’t mean the overwhelming choice you’d find at IKEA or Home Goods. There are at least two good reasons for that. First, Newly is opposed to the idea of “fast fashion” for the home — that bottomless appetite for something new, cheap, and trendy. By stressing timeless beauty and high-quality products, the company hopes to encourage a more conscious consumerism.
Secondly, almost by definition, home products that are sustainable are not standardized. Take another look at those Newly blankets, for instance. The muted color palette of grays and creams is dictated by the supply of recycled yarn that was available — a much more sustainable choice than dyeing.
When the current yarn runs out, the company will introduce new patterns using the next color that’s available. Nothing cookie-cutter there, but also not the kind of selection that many consumers are used to.
“Long term, we want to alter the way consumers view home goods,” Hannah says. “We want to help people understand that the manufacturing process has to change because it’s not sustainable. We want them to understand that we don’t have to use the earth’s resources. You can create a beautiful home with goods that were once part of a beautiful home.”
Spend for Good: Shop the full lineup of 100 percent recycled home goods at Newly.com. Have you tried a Newly product? Tell us about your experience in the Comments section below.