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No Fan of Foam

  • At Frame & Cover ‘foam’ is like a swear word. You say it out loud in the studio and everyone turns in your direction and has the look of a wounded sparrow. That’s how much the word hurts us – so let me explain how much foam hurts the environment and what Frame & Cover are doing differently.The majority of the UK upholstery industry is using foam. UK furniture and furnishings manufacturing is a substantial industry. According to 2013 Government statistics it contributes 9.4 billion to the country’s GDP, which equates to 1.8% of manufacturing output, and employs 115,000 people within 8,116 companies. According to Market Watch the market size of the foam industry is estimated to grow from USD 46.05 Billion in 2015 to USD 74.24 Billion by 2021. This amount includes all types of foam used in different industries. However the uphosltery industry is a large part of this. That is a lot of foam and sadly the foam industry is a rapidly growing one. Furniture, like clothing, is becoming a throw-away commodity that is replaced with the first sniff of a trend change.

    The Good: Frame & Cover’s approach

    Let’s start on an upbeat note and talk you through the alternatives that we use to give our chairs a good stuffing that is both comfortable to sit on, long lasting and environmentally friendly.

    Cocolok – the fibre is collected from the coconut husk, a resource that is widely available.

    Coconut fibre is very high lignin content so it is very tough yet also elastic. The fibre hardly deteriorates at all over time.

    To make the fibre resilient and to make it possible to create very open and ventilating structures, the fibres are spun into ropes. These ropes are transformed into sheets and then sprayed with natural latex, juice from the rubber tree, to provide structure and elasticity.

    The latex that is sprayed on the coir sheet is inherently hypo-allergenic, antimicrobial and dust-mite-resistant, making it perfect for allergy sufferers. Natural latex is a fully renewable material.

    Wool FR Interliner – wool has naturally high flame resistance because of its low flammability (it can manage a burning cigarette) and flame-suppressant properties, stopping a fire from spreading by choking it. Products made from pure new wool do not cause allergies. New wool absorbs moisture from the surroundings, stopping fungal growth and so breaking the food chain that house mite depends on.

    All of the wood that we use in our chair frame is FSC certified wood – meaning that the wood comes from managed forests so that these forests will be around for years to come.

     

    The Bad: The Environmental Implications of foam

    And here’s why at Frame & Cover we are so passionate about rallying against the use of foam:

    • – Foam is a derivative petroleum and made of petrochemicals, which is a non-renewable source.
    • – Foam can’t be fully recycled. I stuggled to find a figure for how much foam ends up in landfill. Polyurethanes.org points out “More than 250,000 tons of polyurethanes from European sources are recycled and recovered every year.” However when you look at the size of the UK upholstery industry you can see that there is still a lot of foam going to land fill. What polyurethanes.org don’t tell you is that whilst all that foam is recyled and repurposed, once the foam has been reformed into a recycled foam sheets it will still at some point end up in landfill and foam just doesn’t properly decompose.
    • – Foam is highly flammable and has been described as ‘solid gasoline’ by one US fire marshal, to exemplify the dangers in the substance. And as if this wasn’t bad enough, in order to make sure that foam passes fire regulations, is has to be treated with a lot of harmful chemicals like Boric Acid, Antimony and Decabromodiphenyl Oxide adding to the harm the foam product does to the environment.

     

    The Ugly: Our Health

    • – Foam breaks down over time. In fact, it starts breaking down from the moment that you start sitting on it. It will eventually break down into a dust that is full of harmful chemicals like polyol is a substance created through a chemical reaction using methyloxirane. Toluene diisocyanate (TDI) is the most common isocyanate employed in polyurethane manufacturing, and is considered the ‘workhorse’ of flexible foam production. Both methyloxirane and TDI have been formally identified as carcinogens by the State of California. These chemical find its way into the general atmosphere of your home in the form of dust particles.
    • – There is also evidence to show that foam based products have other health side effects. Polyurethane foam is the most common foam. According to manufacturer material safety data sheets, potential health effects can include cardiac arrhythmias, breathlessness, chest discomfort, irritation of mucous membranes, headache, coughing, asthma-like allergic reaction, dizziness, weakness, fatigue, nausea, blurred vision, and reduced pulmonary function.
    • – Foam can also cause allergies. Isocyanates, used in the production of polyurethane foams, are the largest cause of occupational asthma. The use of polyurethanes in furniture, cushions, pillows and bedding has been found to increase asthma in children and increased usage also corresponds to the development of asthma in ethnic minorities that adopt a western life-style.

    (Dr. Harry Morrow-Brown, AllergiesExplained.com)

    Frame & Cover’s Get Stuffed! campaign

    Making informed consumer choices is the single, most powerful protest you can make against environmentally harmful products. So, as consumers it’s vital that you look into how your furniture is filled – and say Get Stuffed if the filling is foam

    I’m hoping that after reading this, the next time you hear the word ‘foam’, you too will feel like a mortally wounded sparrow and change your spending habits.

    If you have any questions, please post a comment below.

    OTHER INFO:

    Please let me set the scene – UK furniture and furnishings manufacturing is a substantial industry. According to 2013 Government statistics it contributes 9.4 billion to the country’s GDP, which equates to 1.8% of manufacturing output, and employs 115,000 people within 8,116 companies. In addition to this, the industry employs 134,000 in specialist furniture and furnishings retail and wholesale, 2,000 in repair, 13,000 in leasing and a proportion of the 43,000 registered specialist designers.

    Just a quick scout on the internet and I found this from Market Watch: Polyurethane Foam Market by Type (Flexible, Rigid, and Spray Foam), End-Use Industry (Bedding & Furniture, Building Construction, Electronics, Automotive, Footwear, Packaging), and Region Global Forecast to 2021″, published by MarketsandMarkets, the market size is estimated to grow from USD 46.05 Billion in 2015 to USD 74.24 Billion by 2021, at a CAGR of 8.4% between 2016 and 2021.

    Some crib mattresses emit mixtures of chemicals capable of causing cardiac arrhythmias, difficulty breathing, chest discomfort, irritation of mucous membranes, headache, coughing, asthma and allergic reaction, dizziness, weakness, fatigue, nausea, blurred vision, and reduced pulmonary function, as listed on EPA manufacturer material safety data sheets for polyurethane foam.

    Blog references the I used just in case you want to read in more depth:

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