Teak Garden Furniture – Why Shouldn’t You Buy?
With the sun making a rare appearance for so long at the moment, many of us will be looking at purchasing garden furniture to take our dinner, drinks and friends outside. When you are looking for a completely new set as a starting point or a complete upgrade, there are thousands of options available both in stores and online. Size of garden, storage and material preference all play a part in which set you go on to purchase.
But when you choose your garden furniture, do you think about where it actually comes from? (No, I don’t mean Argos). Are you aware of the impact that buying garden furniture made of wood can have on the environment? Or the illegal trade involved in the manufacture of your wooden chairs and table? If you’re looking for teak garden furniture especially, it may be worth reading on before you click on that “Buy Now” button…..
King of the Woods
Teak has been used for many years in the manufacture of anything that needs to last and stay attractive. It has long been known as the ‘King of the Woods’ due to it’s ability to weather as well as its natural resistance to insects, fungus and acids. Teak was a natural choice to build boats out of and now is used as a popular choice for garden furniture. It seems to be readily available. When purchasing, it may be easy to overlook the issues that can arise with it in the way that the wood itself was obtained.
Friends of the Earth estimate that the UK imports enough illegal hardwood every year for garden furniture, decking and other uses to destroy tropical rainforests over three times the size of Luxembourg annually. This not only has an effect on the native animals and indigenous people, but also the environment as a whole. Forests contain over half of the planet’s animal and plant species and over 3 billion people. This is being taken from them illegally and immorally.
The Illegal Teak Trade
It is really important that you find out where the teak is coming from if you buy it. Burma is the only country that still exports Teak from natural forests, mostly illegally. Unfortunately, Burmese teak is the nicest on the market. Laos and Canadian teak is seen to be of bad quality (as well as coming from tropical rainforests which environmental agencies are protecting from illegal logging). African teak is young, hindering the quality. There are many doubts over it’s legality also.
The growth cycle of a tree is between 60 and 100 years before it is ready for commercial felling. New forests do not provide the quality that older ones do and it can obviously take years to regenerate the forests that are being felled. Buying Teak from Burma destroys the forests for which the people living in rely on for their homes and income. Up to 1.6 billion people rely on the forests for their livelihood across the world.
Teak and Human Rights
It’s not just the lack of places to live or find an income though. The bloodshed and fighting over the forests in Burma is something that is truly shocking. The military in Burma control the forests to the point that local people are being imprisoned or fined huge amounts. This is just for being in parts of the forest that they are told not to and extreme violence is often used. Many of these people are reluctant to leave not only because they live there but also because of a spiritual attachment to the place.
The money from the wood that is illegally imported through China (for whom the demand for teak is huge) goes to the people who run the council (the SPDC) in Burma. They pass this on to political and economic allies. This is instead of being invested into improving the country and the lives of the people who live there. Many environmental activists have been killed who were trying to stop illegal logging. Due to the control through violence that is now seen in the cut and run forestry taking part, teak is now known as “blood timber”. An unfortunate and lesser title than the King of the Woods by which it was once known.
Burmese Teak Trade
Destroying natural primary forests, funding groups guilty of human rights abuse. Depriving animals of their natural habitats and threatening the survival of the indigenous people. It seems that it is certainly worthy of it’s new title through no fault of it’s own. The teak in Burma will disappear in decades if the illegal logging continues at the rate that it is going. For all of these reasons, the FSC refuses to certify Burmese timber. For more information on the situation in Burma, have a look at the Human Rights Report from 2017 . It may shock you with some of the figures and acts against the Burmese people.
How to Buy Safe Garden Furniture
How do you ensure that you are not helping to fund this destructive regime? Look at these woods as alternatives:
- Bamboo and Rattan: but ensure that you check the source via www.inbar.int. It is relied on as an income for people as well as a food source for Giant Pandas and the mountain gorillas of Africa. It is, however, part of the UN’s sustainable development policy and has a negative carbon footprint so definitely worth looking at.
- Pine: do not buy the pine from Latvia or Estonia which is from ancient forests. Any that has an FSC certificate is fine.
- Douglas fir: All European Douglas fir comes from managed plantations. Avoid any from North America or Canada (see www.savethegreatbear.org)
- Larch: European Larch plantations are FCS certified and safe to use. Avoid Russian and Canadian larch which have put species at risk of extinction.
Saving the Forests
There are loads of other points to consider to help save the forests. There is loads of recycled timber available on the market which you should use if you can. Locally produced FSC products will have low transportation costs as well as assuring you exactly where it has come from. Look for chain of custody numbers and FSC certification on imported timbers. Support the WWF, Greenpeace and The Woodland Trust in their work to save the natural forests from devastation. Have a look at the ethical buying guide before purchasing to ensure that your garden furniture is guilt free.
You may think that one less purchase of an imported teak garden table may not make much of a difference, but if everyone stops buying…..