IKEA wants to fix India’s pollution by reusing what farmers burn each winter

Buying instead of burning.
Buying instead of burning.
Image: REUTERS/Kamal Kishore
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Swedish furniture retailing giant IKEA believes it has a hack for Delhi’s pollution woes.

Just three months after it set up its first store in the country, the world’s largest furniture retailer today (Nov. 15) said it will start collecting rice straw from farmers in northern India to use it as raw material for the products sold here.

Currently, most farmers burn the straw post harvest as that is the easiest and most economical way to prepare the field for the next sowing season. The smoke from this stubble burning—a practice rampant across northern Indian states like Punjab, Haryana, and Uttar Pradesh, besides some regions in Pakistan—is one of the reasons for the thick smog that blankets Delhi every winter. The Indian government estimates that crop burning accounts for a quarter of the air pollution in India’s capital every year.

IKEA’s new plan may prove to be a way out.

India will be the first market where the company will convert paddy residue into raw material for its products. “Starting off in India, IKEA wants to turn rice straw into a new renewable material source for IKEA products. The ambition is to create a model for how to reduce air pollution that could be replicated in other megacities,” said Helene Davidsson, sustainability manager at IKEA Purchasing south Asia.

Paddy straw has various uses, including as fodder for cattle, compost, and making pulp for paper. While Davidsson did not share details on what the retailer plans to produce out of the straw, she said some prototypes are being worked upon.

The first prototype will be ready by the end of 2018 and be available for sale in IKEA’s India stores by 2019-2020. They will be gradually introduced in more markets, the Swedish retailer said in a statement announcing the initiative.

IKEA said it is working with NGOs, suppliers, and small-scale farmers to source and procure the residual rice straw. The company, however, declined to comment on the quantum of rice straw it will procure. The state of Punjab alone produces up to 20 million tonnes every year.