What happens to abandoned office furniture?
New York City has some office furniture that is stuck in pandemic limbo. What happens if nobody wants it?
Bryan Anselm, The New York TimesCredit
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By Stefanos Chen
July 10, 2023
Herman Miller, one of the most renowned manufacturers of office furniture, is a world-renowned company. Its designs are so admired that the Aeron chair was placed in the permanent collection of the Museum of Modern Art.
Herman Miller chairs that can sell for more than $1,000 met a less honorable fate this month: a visit with the metal jaws on an excavator.
Kastle System, which tracks office activity, reports that more than three years after the coronavirus outbreak began, approximately half of New York City's office space was occupied in June. This hollowing-out of New York's cubicles raises existential questions about economics and culture, but also logistical ones: What to do with all the office furniture?
You can find the answer in the backs of moving trucks, on their way to an auction, a liquidator, or more likely, the landfill. Some furniture found new life in schools, churches, and the living rooms of movers. Other pieces were repackaged or shipped around the world by hip resellers.
According to Savills - a large commercial brokerage that monitors the market - there were 70 million square foot of direct office space available in Manhattan during the second quarter 2023. This was a record, as opposed to the 40 million square foot of space available before the pandemic. The new leasing is also far below pre-Covid.
The office-afterlife industry has seen a sudden boom. Lior Rachmany is the CEO of Dumbo Moving and Storage. He said that businesses will be rushing to store their furniture in the company's facilities by 2021 and 2022. Since Covid, close to 2,000 companies, ranging from tech startups to law firms, have stored their office equipment at Dumbo's New Jersey warehouses.
He said, "I have never seen so many Herman Miller Chairs."
Rachmany stated that the shift to a wait-and see attitude has led to a greater number of clients not paying for storage this year. The company now auctions delinquent items five times a calendar year. This is up from just once or twice per year prior the pandemic. He said that the company donates items that are not claimed to local charities. However, due to a lack in warehouse space, many of these items end up being thrown away.
A crew of workers prepared to dispose of the last 9,500 pounds of office furniture that had been stored by a Brooklyn-based tech company since April 2021 at a Dumbo warehouse in East Orange (N.J.), on an industrial stretch adjacent to a cemetery. According to Mr. Rachmany the client had paid for, among other items, 25 Herman Miller chair, 20 computer monitor stands, 10 cubicle panels, nine boxes of carpet, and two flat-screen televisions.
David Esterlit is the owner of OHR Home Office Solutions in Midtown Manhattan, which refurbishes and liquidates office equipment for large tenants.
The Dumbo crew spent over an hour driving to Maspeth, Queens. They arrived at a waste-transfer station, one of 38 located in New York City, where the air was filled with the smell of acetone and towering excavators crushed all kinds of commercial debris. A station manager told us that the trash could end up in a landfill located in Pennsylvania or upstate New York.
The van was backed up onto a huge industrial scale, which weighed its cargo. It tipped the scales at 1,080 lbs. Dumbo paid $81 for it. Two workers wearing lime green shirts tossed chairs one after the other near a mountainous pile of chewed up debris. The debris was roughly sorted into recyclable metal and all else.
Trevor Langdon is the CEO of Green Standards. A sustainability consulting firm that works to reduce office waste, Green Standards helps clients reuse and repurpose their office equipment. According to 2018 federal waste statistics, the most recent year for which data is available, Mr. Langdon estimates more than 10,000,000 tons of office equipment in the United States are disposed in landfills every year.
Green Standards has reported that it has diverted nearly 39,000 tonnes of office waste away from landfills since pandemic started.
Brooklyn's office equipment wasn't so lucky. The excavator's mouth swung in a choppy movement over the half-ton of furniture, chomping down and turning the chairs into a dangly, metal cephalopod.
A worker then removed the last chair from the van, and gently placed it on the asphalt. The ergonomic backrest caught the wind and performed one final spin. The excavator smashed down and the chair exploded in a hail of plastic pieces.
Susan C. Beachy has contributed to research.
Stefanos Chen, a New York-based real estate reporter. He joined The Times after spending five years at The Wall Street Journal as a reporter and multi-media producer. Stefanos Chen: More information
This article appeared in print with the headline: Office Furniture Loses its Job When Offices Are Abandoned. Order Reprints, Today's Paper or Subscribe
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