Why the "Gift Economy" plays an essential role when renovating your home sustainably.
With Spring on its way and some spare time on my hands, I decided to build a set of shelves to store my art supplies. The final piece is made entirely from reclaimed wood and only took a day to build. I’ll talk you through my experience, the challenges I came across and some general information about sourcing sustainable timber.
A trial run of assembling the shelves
I have to admit, using reclaimed wood did not cross my mind at first. I was ready to hop in the car and collect it all from B&Q. In a society where we expect quick results, at a reasonable price, it makes sense to buy timber from the nearest hardware shop. I hope to dispel this habit of ours and encourage people to consider alternative ways of getting hold of timber which are more ecologically sound.
This is also an opportunity to expand our notion of sustainability. Western cultures tend to equate consuming ethically with reconfiguring mainstream food systems or boycotting fast fashion by supporting ethical and transparent brands. Home renovation is certainly not at the forefront of the conversation, however it embodies a realm of exciting possibilities.
So why should we consider alternative ways of sourcing timber?
Forests are crucial for reducing the effects of climate change, as they store carbon dioxide, whilst simultaneously providing oxygen, food, medicine, wildlife habitats and of course a refuge for humans. Despite this general consensus that trees are precious and finite life-forms, our demand for timber in the UK alone is staggering. According to a report by DEFRA, UK households produce around 3 million tonnes of wood waste in 2016. Most of which was sent to landfills or incinerators.
Spare plywood from our neighbour, varnished and cut to size
These statistics are disheartening, however there are numerous solutions. I will cover three main ways to collect sustainable timber for your home renovation project, following my personal experience and research. These three methods include reclaiming wood, up-cycling old furniture and buying FCS-certified timber.
‘The gift economy’
The gift economy was first coined by Anthropologist Malinowski in 1915. It has since been used to describe a culture of giving valuable objects without agreeing on an exchange or reward. This practice is governed by social norms and unlike the market economy the gifting economy depends on resilient social relations that centre care and reciprocity.
We see a rise in this phenomena, through online forums, free cycle groups and ‘Facebook free stuff’ pages. The practice of giving is an intrinsic part of forming human connections, for example cooking dinner for friends or giving spare seedlings to neighbours. Generally the gift economy is mutually beneficial, in a subtle, convenient way. Our neighbour had some spare plywood that some builders had left behind, he didn’t need it so we took it off his hands and used it for a table. We wanted to incorporate it into the shelf design but we actually had enough pine wood so we didn’t need it!
DIY table and shelves - the shelves still need some sanding but are almost finished
The gift economy also ties into the circular economy and cradle to cradle concepts that we looked at in a previous article. By using free cycle websites, or sharing resources with friends and neighbours we are not only preventing the excess consumption of finite resources and reducing landfill waste, but are also strengthening bonds and community ties.
Being an opportunist
The next stage in my journey involved taking to the streets. Where ever I went I kept a lookout for skips. It took me a week or two but eventually I stumbled across some fine bits of wood and some old palette boards. This might not be an appealing option for you, but just remember it’s much better off in your house than in landfill!
Some Local councils also offer a timber recycling service, whereby people donate their old wood and the council redistributes it. It's always worth checking out their website or contacting them directly to find out more.
Logistics and bumps in the road
I didn’t manage to get any wood from online spaces such as Free Cycle or Gumtree, however this has been successful for me in the past and I definitely recommend this method, I have linked these websites and more in the resources section below.
Most of the wood I used for the shelves was from neighbours or spare wood given to me by family and friends from their old projects. I also found four pieces of beautiful pine wood in a skip that were very useful, so that is definitely a worthwhile avenue.
A mistake I made was actually accepting too much wood before measuring the space properly. This is definitely not the worst position to be in as I did use some of the shorter pieces of wood and they will inevitably come in handy for another project. If your short on space though and you’d like your design to be consistent aesthetically, then I recommend researching your preferred wood and making a clear list of measurements that you need. I used predominantly pine wood, of varying colours and thicknesses as I don’t mind a rough and ready DIY aesthetic.
Buying sustainable timber
I didn’t buy any wood for this project, however it did take me 2-3 weeks to collect the wood that I needed and the final product is by no means perfect. It is functional and rough round the edges, which may not suit your style.
Another option is buying FSC-certified timber. FSC stands for Forest Stewardship Council, ‘a system that can help you to specify and procure timber, paper and other forest products, such as cork and latex, from well-managed forests and/or verified and recycled sources.’ (FSC UK, 2021). It is a globally recognised scheme and uses rigorous performance base standards. Reports have shown however that on occasion, the scheme has failed to meet these social and environmental standards.
The FSC logo, courtesy of Forest Stewards Council
In principle FSC certified timber offers consumers with a much needed sustainable option for sourcing wood, however we recommend reclaiming wood or upcycling old furniture through reaching out to your community, before going for the FCS-certified timber option.
We hope you enjoyed this read. I have linked some useful resources below that explore some of the concepts I mentioned in more detail. Do contact us if you have any queries!
Some relevant petitions: