Choose a rapidly renewable table
Bamboo, rattan, cork, and straw grow quickly with little chemical assistance, making them popular rapidly renewable materials. These green table products reduce the strain on virgin or old growth forests, make use of unwanted farming by-products such as straw, and are part of efforts to reduce large-scale forest destruction.
How to find a table made of a rapidly renewable material
If you want durable yet beautiful furniture, these rapidly renewable options are for you. Currently there are no regulations for how rapidly renewable materials are grown, harvested, or labeled, but the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC), which provides a third-party certification program to verify that harvested trees come from sustainably managed forests, has begun certifying bamboo. FSC labels may be hard to find, especially since some companies are inconsistent about applying them, so look hard and ask questions. Finding tables made from straw board may be equally challenging, so persistence is key.
- Let your fingers do the finding: Search online for vendors carrying bamboo, cork, or rattan furniture. Many will deliver throughout the US.
- If at first you don’t see, ask!: If you don’t find labels indicating the materials used to make a table, don’t be afraid to ask whether it's constructed using cork, straw board, bamboo, or rattan.
Find it! Rapidly renewable table makers
There are a variety of styles found in rapidly renewable tables, meaning lots to choose from. You’re bound to find something that’ll suit your home.
Simply designed, this bamboo table comes in a couple of different stain colors and is as strong as it is beautiful.
Solid cork has never been so stylish! Jasper Morrison's tables and stools for Moooi are versatile and easy to handle. Not only are they very lightweight, but their sponginess and curved lines make them ideal for kid-friendly homes.
This eco-occasional table is functional and green! Made with a wheat straw board core and bamboo veneer, it’s totally sustainable. And with its zero-formaldehyde and no-VOC glues, binders, and finishers, it’s nontoxic, as well.
Buying a table made from rapidly renewable materials helps you go green because…
- Bamboo, cork, rattan, rice, and wheat grow quickly, are easily renewed, and reduce the strain on valuable forests.
- Wheat and rice straw can be used to make straw board, which if not reused, is burned resulting in significant air pollution.
Their short growth cycle, strength, and adaptability are making rapidly renewables more popular by the year. They’re being used to make furniture of all kinds, and cabinetry, too. Harvested in short cycles of 10 years or less, rapidly renewable materials such as cork, bamboo, rattan, or straw board, are super efficient land users. A 60-foot length of bamboo, the most commonly used rapidly renewable material, takes only 59 days to replace, which is very little time compared to the 60 years required to replace a 60-foot tree. A table made of rapidly renewable materials, rather than long-cycle materials taken from virgin or old growth forests, slows the depletion of these finite raw materials.
Bamboo makes an excellent, affordable building material, both in raw forms and as bamboo plywood, called plyboo. Exports of bamboo furniture have risen from $625,000 to $1.2 million in the Philippines. Bamboo houses are commonly constructed where the grass grows abundantly, and since it is flexible and lightweight, homes built from bamboo often remain standing after earthquakes. Bamboo is seven to 10 times harder than maple, and has tensile strength superior to some steels.
Bamboo, a type of grass and a common material for table construction, is one of the fastest growing plants in the world. Some species grow 30 inches or more every day, significantly more than the 30 inches oak trees gain in an average year. Bamboo does not die when harvested, either; it simply grows new stocks to replace the old ones.
Found most commonly in Asia, Africa, the Caribbean, and Latin America, bamboo provides some important environmental benefits. It has net-like root systems, unique leaves, which produce dense litter on the forest floor, protecting against soil erosion and reducing rain runoff. This is true even in locations where it is difficult to grow plants, such as deforested areas, riverbanks, and places where earthquakes and mudslides are common.
A bamboo stand will release 35 percent more oxygen than an equivalent stand of trees and can sequester up to 12 tons of carbon dioxide per hectare. Bamboo is also very adaptable, growing in a variety of ecosystems. With 1,500 or more species, bamboo can tolerate between 30-250 inches of rain per year and thrives from sea level to 12,000 feet.
Rattan is another common material used to make furniture. It grows in the tropics and subtropics and is a climbing palm sometimes reaching over 600 feet in length. Like bamboo, it is strong and flexible and easy to work with. Rattan hugs other trees to climb the trunks, without disturbing the natural habitat. It can grow in degraded forests in marginal soil, and therefore can help prevent soil loss, etc.
Particleboard, which is most often made from wood fiber, can also be manufactured from wheat or rice straw, which are annually renewable resources. Particleboard made from straw is called straw board or wheat board.
Though some straw is left on fields to condition the soil, in many places straw is burned, thus causing serious air pollution. In addition to producing particulate matter, carbon dioxide, and other air pollutants, in California straw burning creates 56,000 tons of carbon monoxide annually. Rather than burning the straw, many farmers are finding a new market for a once-wasted by-product. US agriculture produces an estimated 100 million metric tons of straw each year.
Processing straw for use in particleboard requires less energy than that needed to process wood fibers. Straw board can be painted and stained like wood, is lighter than regular particleboard and therefore easier to transport, and is used in many applications, including furniture and cabinet construction, wall and floor panels, and doors. Straw board is strong and resists rupture and moisture, and therefore performs the same or better than wood particleboard. Straw is both abundant and inexpensive, and unlike wood particleboard, formaldehyde is not used on straw board, so does not pose the same health risks.
Tables made from cork are sourced from the outer bark of the cork oak tree, which grows in the Mediterranean region. The thick bark is stripped off every nine years without damaging the trees, which live 170 to 250 years. Cork oak forests tend to be models of sustainable management, due to strict local controls. The forests feature a high number of native species—up to 135 species per 0.1 hectare and host several endangered species including the Iberian imperial eagle and the Barbary deer. Cork oaks thrive in open areas of grassland and scrub vegetation interspersed by trees. This environment allows farmers to practice a low-intensity combination of agriculture and forestry, which promotes careful forest management.
- formaldehyde: A flammable reactive gas belonging to the VOC (volatile organic compound) family of chemicals. It is widely used in personal care products, building materials, insulation, and home furnishings. Ingestion of the chemical can cause severe physical reactions, including coma, internal bleeding, and death. The US Department of Health and Human Services considers it a probable human carcinogen.
- old growth forest: Also known as virgin forest, ancient forest, or primary forest, this is an area of forest that has attained great age and contains a variety of vertical vegetation layers, including large live trees. These forests may also be home to many rare species that are dependent on the ecologically unique old growth features.
- straw board: Made of wheat or rice straw, straw board is very similar to particleboard, which is made from wood fibers. It can be used to construct furniture, walls, floors, doors, cabinetry, etc.
- GreenGuard Environmental Institute Certified Product Guide
- Rainforest Alliance
- WorldWatch - Comfort Without Consequences
- Forest Stewardship Council News: FSC reinforcing the cork sector
- Forest Stewardship Council - Advice Note on Bamboo
- US Green Building Council - Green Building Rating System: For New construction & Major Renovations
- International Network for Bamboo and Rattan - Bamboo and Rattan Facts
- Where You Sit - Alternative Materials: Bamboo
- Bamboo Central - Why Bamboo? (click on 'Why Bamboo' link)
- Where You Sit - Alternative Materials: Wheat Board
- Advanced Buildings - Straw Particleboard
- Green Seal - Particleboard and Medium-Density Fiberboard
- Build it Green Factsheet - Cork
- Rainforest Alliance News - The Rainforest Alliance's Smartwood Program Awards World's First Certification of Cork Forests and Products
- Forest Stewardship Council News
- Green Home - formaldehyde
- The Green Guide - Wood Furniture: The Problems
- Pacific Northwest - Definitions: Old-growth Forest