Our life cycle analysis compares the environmental impacts of two types of outdoor
wicker furniture – one made of natural rattan, and one made of synthetic high-density
polyethylene – and evaluates the potential impact of recycling synthetic furniture. Our goal was
to inform consumer choice. As it stands, the market does not clearly distinguish between the two
models, and manufacturers of both types purport to offer the more sustainable alternative.
Our results showed that the natural chair requires 22 times less energy and generates 22
times fewer greenhouse gas emissions than the synthetic chair. The difference in impacts comes
from the more intensive processes associated with HDPE and aluminum (manufacturing and
waste treatment). Further, we found that this gap would not be mitigated either by a high rate of
user recycling of synthetic chairs, or by assuming a longer average lifetime for synthetic chairs.
In other words, we found no realistic scenario in which purchasing a synthetic chair is the more
Ultimately, to inform consumer choice, we recommend that furniture retailers develop
distinct labeling for the natural and synthetic outdoor wicker furniture; consider a third-party
certification program to certify natural rattan as the more sustainable choice; and weigh the costs
and benefits of issuing environmental product declarations. Clear information on the benefits of
choosing natural rattan over a synthetic counterpart may shift consumer preferences toward more