How I recycled my sofa

Last weekend I hauled a three-seat sofa down three flights of stairs by myself. How? I disassembled it!

I inherited a couple of sofas from a friend. The offer was too good to pass up. They were in great condition, and frankly a change is good.

Initially I was just going to drop off my old sofa at the local charity shop. But as I took a careful look at my beloved sofa (in daylight) I discovered that perhaps it wasn’t worth the trouble.My old sofa, while still in sound condition, was beginning to show signs of wear. I’d already mended a couple of the throw pillows and had sewn replacement covers for the seat cushions. While I had been attempting to use my sofa for as long as possible, I doubted whether someone else would appreciate my efforts.  It was time to let go.

So I looked into recycling it. Much to my dismay, I discovered that Calgary has no options for dismantling and recycling the component parts of furniture like sofas and chairs.

I had hired a local company the year previous to take away my mattress and box spring. They advertised that they would recycle where they could. While bed sets consist of the same materials as sofas and chairs, sofas are not recycled and bed sets seldom are.  “Disposal” isn’t the same as “recycle.” I did some follow-up investigation and discovered that recycling facilities in Calgary is extremely limited. All those removal and disposal companies merely take your furniture and bed sets to the landfill where they sit, taking up LOTS of room, and a long time to degrade and decompose.

To me, acting with integrity includes behaving in a responsible and sustainable way. It wouldn’t be responsible to merely chuck my sofa into the landfill and walk away. It is a huge piece of furniture and it would take a long time to degrade. Being responsible and sustainable meant finding a way to reuse and recycle that sofa. I knew there had to be another option.

With all this information in hand, I decided, instead, to dismantle my sofa and find ways to reuse and recycle the component parts myself. How hard could it be, really? And, I’d then know first hand about recycling options in my own city. Nice!

Step #1: Figure out what you’re getting intoP1000712

Tip the sofa up and take off the fabric covering the ‘undercarriage.’ With this fabric gone, you can see what kind of springs your sofa has, how’s it’s been assembled, and what kind of commitment and equipment you’ll likely need.

I discovered that my sofa was held together by eight screws and four bolts – the seat screwed into the back and the bolts held on each arm. Easy peezy. I also discovered it was an Ikea sofa. No wonder it was simply constructed!

Step #2: DisassembleP1000721

Don’t start ripping the fabric and foam off. Disassemble your sofa first. Hopefully you can approximate the way it was put together but in reverse. This will ease the process and allow you to reuse what materials you can without destroying everything. (This will also keep you and your pets entertained for at least a day).

I unscrewed the seat from the back and unbolted the arms. I now had four separately upholstered pieces. I could clearly see all sides of each piece and see how the upholstery was attached.

Step #3: Remove upholsteryP1000730

Upholstery material is sturdy and created for heavy use. As such, it’s great for repairing bags, backpacks, pants, and coats. I was intent on salvaging as much material as possible for my own use.

There was apparently an overabundance of staples at the time my sofa was made. I pulled out the staples with a flat screwdriver and hammer. A chisel or some other such tool would also work. Some foam may come off with the material, depending on construction. Be prepared for the long haul: you will need room, patience, and time. Don’t expect to remove all the upholstery in one night or one day. Have bandages handy.

Step #4: Remove the foam.

In my online research, I came across a guy in Calgary who recycled carpet underlay foam. I emailed and asked if he would accept furniture foam. Yes!

There appeared to be three types of foam on my sofa: the seat cushions, the foam that sat atop the seat springs, and the foam that was glued under the upholstery around the body of the sofa (as seen in the photo above). The first two were easy to remove. The glued on foam, however, took a bit. I used a trowel-type spatula (usually used in drywalling) to scrape and chisel the foam from the wood and cardboard (!) of the body of the sofa. Once done, I packaged it all up with string then dropped it off my new foam recycling friend.

Step #5: Remove the springs.P1000729

My sofa contained very few simple springs (see picture). They were attached with two long staples at both ends. It took muscle, caution, and my trusty hammer to prise them off the body of the sofa.

I am still investigating scrap metal places and have yet to deliver these springs. However, rest assured, I hope to keep these springs out of the landfill!

Step #6: Dismantle the body.

In my research, I discovered that the wood used in sofa and furniture chair construction is untreated. It can, therefore, be used as compost and will decompose relatively quickly.

As mentioned above, my sofa was from Ikea. It was study yet had a simple construction and wasn’t overbuilt. I was surprised to find that some portions of the sofa arms were constructed of heavy cardboard. I removed the cardboard (more upholstery staples) then dismantled the wooden structure of the sofa (more long study staples). Again, be prepared for the long haul. This is tiring, dirty, LOUD work.

I didn’t have any use for the wood or cardboard so it went to the landfill. It broke down into easily managed pieces so that I could haul it down from my apartment and throw it into our building’s garbage bin.

P1000735All in all, I managed to save the upholstery (for myself), the foam (recycled), and hopefully the metal springs (metal salvage) from the landfill. What I did put into the landfill (untreated wood and cardboard) is material that takes up little space and will degrade quickly. If the cardboard had been free of glue and foam, I’d have recycled that. If I knew of someone with a woodchipper, I would have taken the wood to them for composting / mulch.

I was able to do all of this in the dining room of my apartment (approx. a 8′ x 10′ space) with elbow grease, a hammer, normal screwdrivers, a socket set, and a drywall spatula. It took me just over a week from start to finish. Granted, my Ikea sofa was of a simple construction. I’ve heard tales of nightmare dismantling operations, where even sledgehammers were inadequate.

Moral: Acting responsibly and with integrity when disposing of your possessions is possible. Reusing is a major part of being sustainable. Put in the effort and do your part.


Related posts / websites:

ReBound ReCycle – small Calgary company recycles carpet foam underlay….and sofa foam!

Canadian Mattress Recycling – another start-up company, located in Vancouver. Works with mattress companies to dismantle bed sets and recycle the component materials. Hopefully they’ll expand toward the East!

Calgary Metal Recycling – one of a number of scrap metal recycling companies. I hope to check them out soon!


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