Words by Ellie Thorson with art by Jenna Bornstein
Many can say they are familiar with the term ‘fast fashion’; however, the idea of ‘fast furniture’ often flies under the carpet. According to the U.S Enviromental Protection Agency, more than 12 million tons of furniture is discarded and put into landfills annually. While many people enjoy the degree of personalization and rapid change that fast furniture affords, there is often little consideration of the negative environmental impacts. In fact, most furniture is made using raw materials obtained from unsustainable practices, constructed with synthetic fibers from fossil fuels. This not only poses a threat to the planet, but also to our health. Exposure to toxic chemicals such as formaldehyde and chlorinated tris, which are used in manufacturing, pose significant health issues while also contaminating our water and air. As one of the most common materials used to make furniture, wood is raising the demand for low-cost timber products which, in turn, threatens the world’s natural forests and further fuels the climate and extinction crises.
To address the issues of fast furniture, entrepreneurs Sebastian Cox and Phil Ross have sought a more sustainable solution: fungi. After walking through his four-acre woodland and sighting two branches from hazel trees stuck together by fungi, Cox was struck with an idea. Eighteen months later, Cox had a fully formed fungi lamp and stool in his workshop. In the United States, Phil Ross has his tables and chairs made of mushroom composite, on display in the mushroom exhibit at the Santa Cruz Museum of Art and History. Ross has also co-founded the company Mycoworks to produce fungi furniture; a small movement to make mushroom materials mainstream.
Both furniture-makers use fungal strain Fomes fomentarius to produce their furniture. This fungus is mixed with wood chips that have no commercial value and would have otherwise gone to waste. After the fungus feeds on the wood chips for a couple of weeks, a vast web of fibers form. These then become myelinated wood that can be grown to fill the form of its container. The structure is then put into an oven to denature its proteins and kill the fungus, thus creating fungi furniture. Having a similar texture to suede, this material is so dynamic that it can be made as hard as balsa wood or soft as a cork. Whereas many other composite materials require carcinogenic resins to constitute the product, mushroom composite naturally stays together.
Furniture made by Sebastian Cox in collaboration with Ninela Ivanova
In recent years, the New-York based company
, Ecoactive has taken this mushroom innovation to produce an alternative to fiberboard and foam for packaging purposes, which Dell now uses for laptop shipping. Some of Ecoactive’s other clients that utilize mushroom packaging include: TreatySkin, Keap, candle company, and Sandor, another skincare company.Additionally, Ikea has recently investigated switching their packaging to the more sustainable option of mushroom packaging.
However, mainstreaming these products has proven to be difficult. Angannete Green, a materials specialist at Environmental Building Strategies remarks how “there’s a lot of skepticism around products that are new.” People are often opposed to embracing change, despite the benefits change may offer. This claim does not fall short when it comes to fungi furniture. Additionally, the cost of making these products is not cheap. Green’s compact, a consultancy group that helps manage sustainable building projects, has estimated that mushroom materials can cost 40% more than the traditional alternative. Furthermore, making outdoor furniture that is durable may inhibit its sustainability, as they often require extended periods of baking at high temperatures or additional non-sustainable additives.
While mushroom-based may be a promising solution to solving the fast furniture crisis its negative aspects cannot be overlooked. So, the question remains to the consumer: would you buy fungi furniture?
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