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Eco-friendly kitchens: All about sustainable and healthy furniture

The ' green kitchen ' revolution led to certified wood and environmentally friendly production processes.

A sustainable kitchen. The growing environmental concern can be seen in all areas of today's society, but what aspects should be considered in kitchen equipment?

"The goal would be to ensure that the furniture has the least possible impact on the environment throughout its life cycle; that is, from the extraction of raw materials to when the materials cease to fulfill their function as furniture," answers Sofía Iglesias, technical architect and master's degree in interior design and bioconstruction.

"Right from the product development phase, attention must be paid to material savings, the reduction of energy consumption in the manufacturing processes, and the subsequent environmentally friendly disposal of the products," explains Andrea Weirich, Head of Marketing at Bulthaup, about the company's way of working.

All this translates into actions and measures aimed at offering a product that is increasingly respectful of the environment, which, in the words of Victor Costa, Gamadecor's Quality Manager, covers issues "such as wood chain of custody certificates, the use of water-based paint products, boards with low formaldehyde emissions, the recycling of board waste and even the use of waste from cutting as fuel for energy generation."

Healthier. Much has been said about the harmful emissions of compounds present in the materials from which kitchen furniture is made, among which formaldehyde, classified as potentially carcinogenic, is particularly relevant.

From the industry's point of view, reducing emissions of formaldehyde and other harmful substances is an ongoing commitment.

"Formaldehyde is a volatile substance present in most living organisms and can be hazardous if there is a strong concentration. Schmidt particleboards have a rate twice lower in formaldehyde (>4 mg for 100g of the board versus 8 mg in the standard). Therefore, the 0 rate in particleboard is not possible without affecting the quality today," says Clémence Le Gal, product training manager at Schmidt, the company whose kitchen is in the picture.

Companies such as Gamadecor, for example, use E1 (<0.1ppm), i.e., low formaldehyde emission, boards for their kitchens. "We are currently developing a line of ecological kitchens, which will exclusively use boards with zero formaldehyde emissions," adds Victor Costa, head of quality at Porcelanosa's kitchen company.

"Formaldehyde is particularly present in particleboard (from chipboard to MDF to plywood to OSB). The most commonly used are chipboards. I believe that, as far as possible, we should not use any particle board in our homes," says Sofía Iglesias, a specialist in bioconstruction.

Solid wood. Whether using solid wood in furniture is the best way to enjoy an ecological and healthy kitchen, Victor Costa states that "it is mainly an aesthetic choice, as current production techniques do not offer any technical advantage over fiberboard or veneers."

"Solid wood is most commonly used in framed fronts, composed of several assembled parts that make them stable, although other types of fronts-stratified, lacquered, etc-are no worse for the environment or health than solid wood. What counts is using EPFS-certified boards and making sure that all four sides of the boards are edge-sealed, which limits the release of formaldehyde into the air," says Schmidt's Clémence Le Gal.

"One result of our environmental concern is the use of renewable raw materials in fronts, sides, wall panels, and countertops. The use of local solid woods is also maintained in the interior fittings of the kitchen. In addition, one of the essential qualities of, for example, the b3 model is 'lightweight construction,' whereby the use of thin materials not only lends the kitchen elegance and lightness but also preserves natural resources by reducing the amount of material," says Andrea Weirich.

Carlos Fornieles, CEO of Fornimuebles and in charge of design and manufacture of Cocinas Ecológicas, states that "in solid wood furniture, no petroleum-derived resins are needed for its formation and, although initially the amount of product is greater, there are designs and processes, as in our case, that guarantees a kitchen furniture for a lifetime."

Materials management.

"Regarding whether it is the most sustainable option, wood has an additional advantage: on the one hand, it absorbs CO2 when it is a tree, and if at the end of its useful life it were used as fuel, the CO2 it would emit would be the same as it generated, so wood is considered a zero carbon footprint fuel," says Sofía Iglesias.

"The most sustainable option would be to use the veneered board on a chipboard base from the recycling of other boards," says Victor Costa.

"In the short term, natural wood veneer furniture on board made from recycled wood is more sustainable, since we need less wood and, therefore, fewer resources," says Carlos Fornieles who, from a practical point of view, adds that "other advantages of furniture made from wood veneer are the economic and delivery time because the boards are already ready to be cut and machined. It is furniture that does not have to be handled raw, like solid wood, and this reduces operating costs".

Certified timber. They all agree on the need to always ask for certified wood that guarantees proper management of forest resources and avoids uncontrolled logging. All the manufacturers consulted have some type of certification that guarantees the control of the chain of custody of the wood.

"We only work with suppliers and wood certified to FSC (Forest Stewardship Council) and PEFC (Programme for the Endorsement of Forest Certification) standards. These quality seals guarantee the origin and control of the wood," says Vicente Burrel, CEO of Comunícate en Red and in charge of branding and marketing for Cocinas Ecológicas.

"Certifications such as FSC are independent of the wood-producing industry, so they guarantee good resource management, although I would add that it is preferable to use locally sourced wood," says Sofía Iglesias.

The search for more sustainable solutions for the manufacture of kitchen furniture has focused on varieties such as bamboo, which has an excellent performance in terms of strength, durability, aesthetics, ease of cleaning, and speed of growth. However, its use is not yet widespread among manufacturers.

"Bamboo is a fast-growing wood with high mechanical strength. Today, the only drawback is its price, since it does not invite its integration in kitchen furniture to replace materials such as solid pine or veneers," explains Joaquín Mora, in charge of eco-innovation at Cocinas Ecológicas.

"One of the advantages of bamboo is its rapid growth. Hence the 'sustainable' label. In addition to that, there is its durability. Therefore, I think it is a suitable product for kitchens, although I would give priority to local woods," confirms Sofía Iglesias.

Emission-free finishes. Unlike other surfaces, kitchen fronts require frequent cleaning.

"The treatments the wood receives can also be harmful to the environment. Therefore, it is preferable to opt for treatments with 100% oils and waxes and without siccatives or with lead-free siccatives," says Sofía Iglesias.

The resistance required to withstand, for example, scratches and wear and tear usually achieved by using lacquers containing solvents, but more and more water-based products are becoming available that are suitable for this space. "Some environmental advantages of waterborne coatings are the reduction in the amount of product required to achieve the same quality, as well as the possibility of capturing the released substances (overspray) through filters so that they can be recycled or disposed of in an environmentally friendly way," explains Andrea Weirich.

Alternative materials. "Using glass, composite materials for construction, technical plastics or stainless steel, we can achieve more avant-garde designs than wood, which is more traditional and artisan," explains Joaquín Mora.

To these materials, Victor Costa adds "laminates on chipboard, lacquered, glass, or mineral compounds such as Krion by Gamadecor," the firm whose kitchen is in the image.

Sofía Iglesias says that the label of healthy (even for people with chemical sensitivities and other syndromes of this nature) can also be applied to glass fronts, fabric (e.g., organic cotton), natural fibers such as sisal, rattan, and even designs that incorporate recycled paper or cardboard".

Bulthaup points to aluminum as "one of the easiest materials to recycle. It can be reused over and over again without loss of quality and at an energy cost of about 5 percent of the energy required to obtain the raw material," says Andrea Weirich.

Sofia Iglesias talks about the 3Rs rule of ecology. "The first is to reduce, for example, the number of materials we need in our kitchen. The second is to reuse furniture, shelves, or other elements that we can originally incorporate into our kitchen. The third is to recycle, and for this, we must think when choosing the materials for our kitchen."

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