Turning rice straw into resource: 'Better Air Now' by IKEA

Smoke Scream! STIR selects design projects, people and practices that aim to kill the smoke with smart innovation.

by Zohra Khan Published on : Dec 12, 2019

For people around the world, breathing polluted air is slowly becoming a part of the modern lifestyle. In India, especially in northern states, the situation is worse due to the burning of massive amount of rice straw to make way for new crop.

02 mins watch With the ‘Better Air Now’ initiative, IKEA brings action on the rising air pollution issue by turning rice straw into a new renewable raw material source for products. |  Better Air Now | IKEA | STIRworld
With the ‘Better Air Now’ initiative, IKEA brings action on the rising air pollution issue by turning rice straw into a new renewable raw material source for products. Video Credit: Courtesy of IKEA

IKEA – the Swedish furniture manufacturing giant – is working around ways to creatively turn this harvest residue into a new, renewable raw material. In 2018, it kicked off Better Air Now initiative in India with an aim to take action on the depleting air quality, which is one of the largest, global environmental issues at the moment.

The initiative has already brought incredible results in the form of its first collection, called FÖRÄNDRING, which means ‘change’ in Swedish. The collection is a set of homeware products, which includes rugs, runners, table mats, vessels, lampshades and more.

  • Rugs and runners from the FÖRÄNDRING collection made out of rice straw |  Better Air Now | IKEA | STIRworld
    Rugs and runners from the FÖRÄNDRING collection made out of rice straw Image Credit: Courtesy of IKEA
  • A lamp shade from the FÖRÄNDRING collection made out of rice straw and fabric waste  |  Better Air Now | IKEA | STIRworld
    A lamp shade from the FÖRÄNDRING collection made out of rice straw and fabric waste Image Credit: Courtesy of IKEA

“Rice straw as a material is quite flexible to work with. You can manage to change it into many forms,” says Akanksha Deo, one of the IKEA designers behind the collection. Deo, along with fellow designer Iina Vuorivirta, created the products and dyed them in shades of black and blue to depict both the horror of the present smog situation of our cities and the optimism of a clear, blue sky.

The designers sought three different techniques to explore the best possible application of rice straw depending on its materiality. “We have twisted the material and woven it into rugs. We have made paper out of rice straw, and further cords out of the paper to turn them into baskets. We have also done mouldings with the material,” explains Deo, the only IKEA designer based in India.

  • Burning of crop residue is one of the major causes of air pollution in cities of Northern India |  Better Air Now | IKEA | STIRworld
    Burning of crop residue is one of the major causes of air pollution in cities of Northern IndiaImage Credit: Courtesy of IKEA
  • The dreary state of smog engulfed Delhi   |  Better Air Now | IKEA | STIRworld
    The dreary state of smog engulfed Delhi Image Credit: Courtesy of IKEA
It was challenging and exciting at the same time to find out what are the weaknesses of rice straw and how can we overcome it by supporting it with another material so that it becomes a real product.” – Akanksha Deo, designer, IKEA

To find the right stability of this unique raw material to respond to the desired functions, other materials were mixed to the composition. “In the case of rugs, the idea was to understand the strength, stability, and flexibility of the material, how brittle it is and what we need to mix in it to make it a bit soft and less brittle. For rice straw moulded products like lampshades and vessels, we had to find the right percentage of cotton waste pulp ratio to rice straw pulp ratio because if it is only rice straw pulp then it is not stable,” adds Deo.

A palette of homeware products from the FÖRÄNDRING collection  |  Better Air Now | IKEA | STIRworld
A palette of homeware products from the FÖRÄNDRING collectionImage Credit: Courtesy of IKEA

The collection illustrates the desire to contribute to positive change - to change current habits where rice residue is being burnt as well to usher a change by contributing to better air quality.

With the range of products under FÖRÄNDRING, the material surely appears promising with a lot of potential for future innovation. “There is a lot that has to be explored. This collection is just the start to use this material. I am pretty sure this can be used in a lot more ways,” says Deo.

From the drawing board of FÖRÄNDRING collection  |  Better Air Now | IKEA | STIRworld
From the drawing board of FÖRÄNDRING collection Image Credit: Courtesy of IKEA

Through the Better Air Now, the team at IKEA looks ahead to create products that will directly and indirectly advocate for climate change. To realise its model of reducing air pollution of various crop burning cities of the world, IKEA has joined Climate and Clean Air Coalition to create a large impact through actions that reduce short-lived climate pollutants.

“We want to share our pilot model from Better Air Now for repurposing agricultural residues that can be scaled up and replicated by others in other regions and with other crops,” says Helene Davidsson, Sustainability Manager South Asia at IKEA Purchasing & Logistics.

The initiative highlights the opportunities in the situation we are in and the resources we have – shifting the narrative where a material that is deemed waste promises to be a valuable source for the future.

Read more from the series:

The Biomaterial Revolution: Green Charcoal by Shreyas More and Meenal Sutaria
Breathing lungs for Delhi: Aũra towers and drones by Studio Symbiosis
Designing breathable cities: Smog Free Project by Daan Roosegaarde
Recycling air pollution into inks: AIR-INK by Graviky Labs
Traditional solutions to air pollution:CoolAnt Coral by Ant Studio

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