A Recyclable Composite? Better sit down...

A Recyclable Composite? Better sit down…

The molded composite chair holds a distinct place in Western culture, and it doesn’t seem to be losing it anytime soon. Originally designed by Charles and Ray Eames, the concept soon spawned a host of variant seating solutions that were lightweight, relatively inexpensive, reasonably durable (I can attest to that: I threw a few down a long flight of stairs once), and in some instances, stackable. The Chair was widely adopted by schools, libraries, DMV waiting rooms, and similar institutions in the US during the 1960’s, and continued being used there for decades.

Like it or hate it, many young spines were formed by The Chair. It would appear that it left deep psychological impressions as well, and some of those who were thus impressed grew up to be designers, so The Chair keeps on being re-invented. We highlighted one rather whimsical example a couple of years ago.

This recent version, however, makes a claim that none of its predecessors did: it is 100% recyclable. Designed by the Copenhagen firm of Iskos-Berlin, for Scandanavian furniture brand Muuto, the shell of the chair is not a glass fiber composite, but a wood fiber composite, 70% wood, 25% polyester resin, and 5% colored polyester resin.

Fiber Chair, as they have dubbed it, makes an unusual claim of recyclability. Normally, we think of recycling depending on being able to salvage a homogenous material. Composites have been considered difficult or impractical to recycle because the different materials, once composited, cannot readily be separated. How can you cycle the plastic resin if it’s full of glass fiber? Our concept of recycling is deeply married to the notion of reusing simple, homogenous materials.

Fiber Chair makes a different claim: the composite material can be remolded with the addition of a small amount of new material (1%). It doesn’t have to be ‘de-composited’ if the material can simply be used again as the same material.  This is a very fresh idea, and may be applicable to a variety of other composite materials.  It may open up a new avenue of thought towards making recycable composites

Fiber Chair is available with several different bases including metal tube legs, wooden legs, and a swivel base. It is offered in several colors of resin, and is described by its makers as having a distinctive tactile texture, one which is also visible up close, but appears smooth and soft at normal viewing distances. Fiber Chair is also offered in textile-upholstered and leather-upholstered versions (which clearly complicates its recyclability, at the least). The most basic models start at US $349, with the most expensive topping out at US $1,349.