IKEA will begin combating India’s pollution crisis by stockpiling rice straw from Indian farmers and recycling the materials to make new products. The project, “Better Air Now,” will end the process of burning the agriculture waste.

In a press release, Helene Davidsson, Sustainability Manager South Asia at IKEA Purchasing, said, “The health effects of air pollution are severe and at IKEA we are determined to contribute to a solution.” 

“We know that burning of rice crop residue is a major pollution source and with this initiative, we hope that will change. If we can find a way to make use of rice straw it would become a valuable source for the farmers instead of being burnt, which in the end also would contribute to better air for people,” Davidsson added.

IKEA will work closely with India’s central and state governments, innovators, NGO’s, United Nations, universities, suppliers and farmers to achieve “zero rice straw burning.” India will be IKEA’s first market in testing the renewable material source for its products.

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), 90 percent of people breathe contaminated air, causing an estimated 7 million people to die each year from exposure to air containing high levels of pollutants. A study released last month by the Energy Policy Institute at the University of Chicago estimated that New Delhi’s air is “so polluted that residents could live as much as nine years longer if the city met WHO standards.”

IKEA has worked on reducing air pollution from its operations for years. To eliminate the use of hazardous chemicals, the furniture giant announced it’s developing air purifying curtains and air purifiers. Lena Pripp-Kovac, sustainability manager of Inter IKEA Group, said the “Better Air Now” initiative is an “important step” in IKEA's journey to enable healthy and sustainable living. 

The initiative will focus on the northern parts of India including New Delhi, Gurgaon, and Faridabad. The first prototype of an IKEA product based on rice straw is projected to be completed by the end of 2018 and available for purchase in IKEA’s India stores by 2019-2020. The products will then gradually be launched in other markets.

ikea CEO of IKEA India, Peter Betzel, gestures during the ground-breaking ceremony of the Swedish multinational household furnishing retail store chain in Bangalore on October 11, 2018. Photo: MANJUNATH KIRAN/AFP/Getty Images