Exploring Sustainable Materials for Furniture Manufacturing

In the quest for a more sustainable approach to furniture making, innovators like Celine Sandberg of Agoprene have experimented with unconventional materials to reduce the use of plastic polymers in the industry. By exploring a range of alternatives, such as crushed oyster shells, agricultural waste, wood fibers, and seaweed, Sandberg and her team have made significant progress in creating environmentally-friendly foam blocks that can be used in seat cushions and chairs. The foam they have developed is 100% biodegradable, breaking down naturally within eight months. This breakthrough opens up new possibilities for furniture makers to move away from plastic, a material commonly used in various ways throughout the industry.

Plastic is widely used in furniture manufacturing due to its versatility, affordability, and durability. However, the negative environmental impact of plastic-induced furniture waste and carbon emissions from its production cannot be ignored. The Environmental Protection Agency estimates that 12 million tonnes of furniture were discarded in the US alone in 2018, with approximately 80% ending up in landfills. These plastic parts can take hundreds of years to break down, contributing to pollution and environmental degradation. Additionally, the production of polyurethane foam rubber, a common cushioning material, results in 105 million tonnes of CO2 emissions annually.

In response to these challenges, many companies are seeking alternative materials for sustainable furniture production. Danish design company Mater incorporates discarded coffee bean shells, sawdust, and ocean waste into their chairs and outdoor furniture. This creative approach aligns with their commitment to being a green company, despite the financial challenges associated with sustainable manufacturing.

Scientists and researchers are also exploring unconventional options, such as fungus. Mycelium, the root-like structure of fungus, serves as the basis for BioKnit, a new type of textile developed by researchers at Newcastle Upon Tyne’s Hub for Biotechnology in the Built Environment. By growing mycelium on a substrate like sawdust and allowing it to absorb nutrients, a bio-based material is created. BioKnit has already found applications in making lampshades, showcasing its potential as a sustainable alternative.

Major design brands, including Williams Sonoma and IKEA, are embracing the shift towards sustainability in furniture manufacturing. Williams Sonoma now uses responsibly sourced cotton and recycled polyester, while IKEA aims to utilize renewable and recycled materials exclusively by 2030. This change in direction indicates a willingness within the industry to explore and adopt new environmentally-friendly materials.

The progress made by Celine Sandberg and other innovators highlights the possibility of furniture manufacturing moving away from plastic and towards sustainable alternatives. The openness and curiosity within the industry are promising signs of change, as it becomes increasingly important to create products that align with environmental values. By embracing sustainable materials, the furniture industry can contribute to a greener future and reduce its ecological footprint.