The Alex Drawer unit is a small drawer unit made to fit under or near a desk. It is a popular product for craft and workspaces, given its storage capacity, relative affordability, and modular, simple style. The Alex drawers are well-rated among Ikea products. If you buy this product, you may be able to use it for a few years, but the Alex drawers are not as durable as a set of drawers made from metal or hardwood. The product can be easily damaged in a move, under moist conditions, or from strenuous use. For a long-lasting set of drawers, pick a set from a more durable material. For a cheap storage solution, the Alex drawers are more than appropriate. Ikea has made more strides towards sustainability and transparency than other smaller low-cost furniture suppliers. The Ikea model for sustainability works towards more recycled materials and clean energy, but the business model of high-volume, low-cost, low-quality products comes in direct conflict with a sustainable future.
The Alex drawers are made of particle board for structure and acrylic paint, paper foil, and plastic edging as a finish. Particleboard is a notorious material in the furniture industry for its lesser structural density and affordable price. Many low-cost furniture items are made from particleboard because it is cheap and lightweight. The particleboard is susceptible to moisture issues and a lack of structural integrity. While the particleboard used at Ikea often consists of recycled wood chips, the engineering process that turns wood chips into particleboard includes resin glue and plastic-based finishes. Thus the wood inside the particleboard cannot be further recycled.
The glue used to bind the wood chips together is safer than other glues used for particleboard. There are health risks related to the off-gassing of formaldehyde from the furniture. Formaldehyde is a chemical found in many household products, usually as a glue or adhesive. The main health risks are short term irritation of the eyes, nose, skin. Formaldehyde is a known carcinogen, meaning it can cause cancer if the individual has been exposed in high amounts. However, Ikea furniture has formaldehyde emissions 50% below the legal limit.
The veneer of the Alex drawers is comprised of plastic-based paint and combined with the paper foil and plastic-edging. It gives a clean look with a smooth surface texture. It can be cleaned with a slightly damp cloth. The veneer is less susceptible to chipping than traditional paint, but the veneer cannot be sanded and refinished as with paint.
Ikea products are designed in Europe by well-paid designers. Harvesting of materials occurs in Eastern Europe and Asia, which allows for lower labor costs and lower occupational standards. The Ikea model, without a doubt, is driven by low-cost production and manufacture. The assembly costs of the furniture are avoided by flat-packing all products and unloading the assembly responsibility to the consumer. Transportation costs are lowered by placing Ikea stores outside of city centers, requiring individual customers to drive miles to retrieve their purchases.
Given the short lifespan of the material (due to its lack of structural integrity), the inability to recycle means it is not as environmentally friendly as advertised. Additionally, particleboard furniture cannot be reused, refinished, and restored to the same extent as true hardwood furniture. If your Alex drawers break and the particleboard is affected, you will not be able to fix them as you would for hardwood furniture.
Ikea is one of the largest furniture chains in the world, with over 400 stores and billions of dollars in retail sales. Ikea is known for Scandinavian-inspired furniture at low-costs. Ikea is a large corporation with expansion and profits in mind. While the brand is heavily connected to its Swedish roots, Ikea outsources its production and manufacturing to countries in Asia and Eastern Europe, where labor costs are cheaper and regulations are less strict. Ikea has many subsidiaries that allow Ikea to avoid taxes and regulations. Additionally, Ikea’s wood harvesting methods have come into question, including a report that Ikea’s subsidiary Swedwood was harvesting wood from old-growth forests. Ikea’s model of low-cost, high volume means a sacrifice in the quality of the products. The materials used are cheap in price and quality, and the assembly costs are avoided by offloading assembly onto the consumer.
However, Ikea has been proactive in its sustainable initiatives. Ikea has goals of sourcing 100% of its wood from recycled material or FSC certified wood, using “sustainable cotton”, and shifting to renewable energy. For a large corporation, Ikea has made strides towards a sustainable future. The scale of the company means that transitioning to a completely sustainable model will be difficult. Even if Ikea were to make production sustainable, that would not negate the thousands of Ikea products that currently exist and cannot be properly disposed of.