The general consensus is that the Cash for Clunkers program was a success (but not without controversy and more than a couple of hiccups) in that it tempted Americans with the almighty power of green to give up fuel hogs and make greener auto-buying choices. Now, the government is backing an EnergyStar appliance rebate program that aims to boost slumping appliance sales and take energy-guzzling refrigerators and the like out of the equation and replace them with more efficient models. 
And now, as reported by The New York Timeshome furnishing manufacturers and retailers are getting into the action by offering incentives to consumers that are looking to trade in the old for the new.

At first thought, it sounds great. But wait … what’s the eco-perk here? With Cash for Clunkers it was fuel efficiency and with the EnergyStar rebate program it will be energy efficiency. What’s the catch with trading in your old sofa and getting a discount on a new one? Upholstery efficiency?

The businesses profiled in the NYT article aren’t just taking mattresses, couches, and, umm, tea kettles, off of consumers’ hands, giving them discounts on replacements, and then trashing the outmoded ones. They’re making sure they avoid landfills — furniture is the fourth most common item found in landfills — by recycling them and/or donating them to charity, meaning that the eco-benefits here have more to do with the proper, not to mention convenient, disposal of waste rather than any kind of efficiency.

It’s a great idea, especially for folks who’ve experienced waves of guilt after trashing an eight-year-old mattress or struggled to get rid of a beat-up ottoman via craigslist. And perhaps most importantly, the fact that the old furnishings are donated and/or recycled means that any kind of stigma attached to an act of conspicuous consumption is replaced with a feeling of altruism.

That said, it must be pointed out that these swap programs aren’t funded by government gravy but by the retailers and manufacturers themselves, so the financial perks of unloading old household junk with them can vary.

At Ruby & Quiri in New York, it’s a $25 gift card for each piece of used furniture brought in (it will be broken down for recycling or donated); at Pacific Manufacturing in Arizona, it’s 10 percent off the buyer's next purchase for each piece of furniture brought in (it will be donated to charity); at Lillian August in Connecticut, it’s a discount for every used couch brought in (it will be donated to a local Habitat for Humanity retail store); and at Kitchen Kaboodle in Oregon, it’s a discount on a fancy new teakettle for each old one brought in (it will be donated to charity).

Businesses running such promotions are noticing increased sales. Chicago-area furniture store owner Timothy Smithe remarks that the trade-in for credit program was so popular that "... even if the government never brings back Cash for Clunkers, we will."

Do any furniture or homegood retailers near you offer cash or credit for your old stuff? 

Via [New York Times]

Photo: Paulo in Vancity

MNN homepage photo: Kparis/iStockphoto

Matt Hickman ( @mattyhick ) writes about design, architecture and the intersection between the natural world and the built environment.

Cash for coffee tables?
First it was cars. Soon it will be appliances. Now furniture retailers are getting in on the cash- and earth-friendly trade-in game.