Compressed wood products like fibre boards, particle boards and plasterboards are the most commonly used materials in interiors for non structural application. Interior designers use them for internal partitions, wall paneling, cabinets and furniture making. But, these conventional materials are not exactly environment friendly. Instead, the options can include low or non toxic engineered wood boards, synthetic gypsum boards or cement particle and fibre cement board.
The most popular choice of material for furniture and creative interiors is fibreboard, a versatile and eco-friendly alternative to wood. Manufactured from timber dust and chippings, the base materials are compressed and bonded together with chemical resins. Available as hardboard, medium board (MBL and MBH), soft board (SB), hard density fibreboard (HDF), and medium density fibreboard (MDF), they can be used for all interior applications. However, all these boards contain adhesives containing urea-formaldehyde (UF) resins which are hazardous to health and contribute to air pollution and poor indoor air quality. The environment friendly substitute that designers can use is the composite wood board or medium density fibreboard that consist of non-toxic binders such as, MDI (methyl discarnate) or fibreboards containing a combination of materials such as flax which is 100% natural and sustainable. One such product is Green Panelmax MDF from Greenply Industries Limited, made with fibre interlocking technology which leads to high bonding strength and rigidity. Yogesh Arora, Country Head, Engineered Panel division, GreenPly Industries Ltd says, “Green Panelmax MDF is an eco-friendly and economical engineered board most suited for constructing furniture and creating interiors. Its homogenous structure and easy machining characteristics enables it to be precisely routed, carved and molded. Additionally, the 0% latex content of Green Panelmax MDF ensures a perfect finish while painting, polishing and high-gloss. Moreover, the MDF undergoes various processes to make it termite, borer and fungus resistant.”
An excellent substitute to wood or wood based boards is the straw particleboard. Produced from compressed straw and bound together with water based non-toxic glue, it is an effective material for countertops and cabinets and wall coverings. Straw particleboard is 20% lighter and the product’s workability is similar to wood as it can be sawn, drilled, routed, nailed, screwed, and glued. In addition, straw board rigid panels can be used for interior partition walls. These economical, and recyclable solid panels made of all natural fibrous raw materials are durable, feature thermal and acoustic insulation as well as fire and termite resistance. As per Manoj Chopra, Proprietor, Mamata Paper Agency, “We are engaged in offering high quality straw board made from wheat straw which is eco friendly and can be recycled and again processed. The boards can be used for flooring or wall applications with range available in large sizes as well as small sizes to meet the specific requirements of the designers.”
While bamboo has been used in construction for centuries, it is now that manufacturers are reinventing its fabrication to suit modern day needs. For instance, Maria Yee, President Maria Yee Inc. has developed an alternative to solid hardwood called BambooTimbre that releases no harmful chemicals into the atmosphere. It is made by a proprietary process of layering and bonding flattened bamboo culms, or stalks, in defined patterns to create boards as thick as eight inches. The product exceeds steel in tensile strength, yet is pliable enough to be shaped into beautiful furniture designs. “The furniture displays innovative ridged texture which has a unique depth and colour dimension. Additionally, the new water-based finish used is not only clear and durable but is genuinely green,” said Yee at the launch of company’s new furniture collection. The EcoLuxury™ furniture range of this product is available at retailers like Hirshfield’s Design Studio, USA and April High Point Market Showroom, USA among other exclusive furniture stores across the world.
“Earlier, there was a general perception that materials with recycled content were inferior in quality. However with increased awareness and their undeniable advantages, the trend is rapidly changing.” – Architect Niteen Parulekar
As more people are emphasizing on luxury with a conscience, researchers are constantly developing newer products to replace wood. Such as, researchers from the University of Illinois have developed a proprietary corn-based composite board that can be used instead of particle board, plywood or fibreboard. Called CornBoard, the product uses non-toxic resin based binder and has been patented for use by a company called Corn Board Manufacturing, Inc. Similarly, Kirei board, a plywood alternative found as a waste product of grain harvesting by Kirei USA is manufactured from the raw stalks of sorghum, an edible grass grown around the world. After harvesting, the stalks are compressed, washed, and woven into sheets. These sheets are then heat-pressed with a formaldehyde-free adhesive to create blocks which are cut to the desired size.
Fibre cement board of the past contained asbestos fibres and thus earned a bad name in building industry. The newer version of fibre cement boards contains large percentage of cellulose fibres or wood fibre from post-consumer or industrial waste. Also, instead of Portland cement, they include eco-friendly fly ash along with sand. The board apart from being low-maintenance is also energy efficient and contributes to insulating indoors. Available in variety of textured finishes, wood grain patterns and stucco textures, it can be used for internal partitions and wall paneling and decorative architectural surfacing. Thailand headquartered Shera Group, manufactures fibre cement boards using eco-friendly materials and sustainable processes. Their autoclaved wood-grain fibre cement board is flexible and dimensionally stable wood substitute which is termite and water damage resistant. The boards are available in several sizes and textures to match any interior or exterior wood cladding requirement.
Similarly, the traditional gypsum was collected from mines and the entire process had an adverse impact on the environment. Present day synthetic gypsum on the other hand, does not require any extraction from gypsum mines thus contributing to lesser waste and reduced dependency upon the landfills. Gypsum wallboard is manufactured with layers of gypsum plaster sandwiched in between the layers of recycled, green treated reinforced paper. It can easily resist both water and fire and is available in large sheets that can be cut down to fit any size and shape. Moreover, gypsum wallboards with painted or textured plaster finish tends to save on overall cost of construction and time. Synthetic gypsum wallboard is utilized as a finishing product for interior walls and ceilings where enhanced moisture and mold resistance are desired. Venkat Subramanian, Managing Director, Saint Gobain, Gyproc says, “Apart from its advantages over traditional methods of constructions, the usage of gypsum wallboards enables water conservation. Also, the installation process ensures a smoother and timely finish, higher productivity, and higher performance. It also leaves the sites cleaner as it is a non-messy procedure along with low electricity bills owing to its low conductivity levels.”
Cement bonded particle board is another eco-friendly choice since it constitutes wooden chip material mixed with cement. The wood used is of fast growing species like Eucalyptus and Casurina bonded together with cement, compressed and heat treated. The manufacturing process recycles the waste material to the beginning of the process to avoid adding to landfill. The multi-purpose cement bonded particle boards made out of 62% cement 28% wood are fire, water, termite and fungus resistance and suitable for any interior or exterior application. The laminated cement particle boards in natural teak, Sea beach, mahogany and cherry finishes are mostly used for making elegant door shutters, cabinets, wardrobe, workstations and wall claddings. For example, Bison Panel Cement Bonded Particle Board (CBPB) manufactured by NCL Industries Limited in India uses plantation wood and species like Eucalyptus and Poplar thus, conserving regular forest wood and conforming to ISO Standards. It is the only cement board that gives smooth surface on both the sides and can be used for both internal/external applications.