March 28, 2022

Being a child of the 1970’s means I grew up with the beanbag.  I believe my every apartment during the decade was equipped with a beanbag, and that was true for my friends as well.  As we grew older and began to have children, the beanbag shifted from inexpensive furniture for a single male to the go to furniture for a small child. These were great to flop in after work, as an extra chair to watch the ball game, or a way to keep a young son occupied.  The best part was they were inexpensive and light enough to easily move.

When I looked online, I found the Sacco chair (“Sacco” is Italian for “bag, sack”), also called a beanbag chair or simply a beanbag, is a large fabric bag filled with polystyrene beans.  The Sacco was introduced in 1968 by three Italian designers, Piero Gatti, Cesare Paolini and Franco Teodoro, and was created in the Italian Modernism movement.  Italian modernism’s design was inspired by the new available technology.  The idea of mass-produced goods made within an inexpensive price range appealed to consumers and created the need for a revolution in the creative and manufacturing process.  The beanbag was marketed as the ‘shapeless chair’, as the beanbag conformed to whatever user happened to plop down.  The target user of the chair was the laidback hippie community and their non-conformist household.  In an era characterized by the hippie culture, apartment sharing, and student demonstrations, the thirty-something designers were said to have created a nonpoltrona (non-chair) that launched an attack on good bourgeois taste.  Here I only thought it was comfortable.

This week I did something I had never done before and washed a beanbag chair.  I unzipped the bag and poured the contents into two large trash bags.  The beans came out easily enough but were so full of static they flew around the garage.  We popped the cover in the washer, and when it came out the inside of the machine was covered with polystyrene beans.  We put the bag over the patio fence to dry to keep from filling the dryer as well.  Getting the beans back in the bag was not so easy.  I started outside and wound up with beans covering the patio.  I brought the bag inside, but it did not get any better.  The only time the beans easily spilled from the trash bag was when they fell to the floor rather than inside the beanbag.  Between the two of us we were able to refill the beanbag, but probably lost a third of the beans “somewhere”.

THOUGHTS:  The foam polystyrene used in beanbags, and as protective packaging for other products, is not biodegradable.  Previously manufacturers have tried making it environmentally friendly by incorporating cellulose and starch, or by adding light sensitive polymers that degrade in sunlight, but these methods have serious disadvantages.  A team of scientists from China has developed an approach that embeds water-absorbing resin particles throughout the styrene before it is formed into polystyrene.  When the resulting solid encounters water, the polymer particles expand, reducing the polymer structure to a powder that is biodegrade.  By altering the ratio of ingredients, it is possible to control the rate of disintegration.  The foamed polystyrene is cheaper than conventional materials and is readily adoptable by cost-conscious companies that want to be environmentally responsible.  Follow the science.  Change is coming and it starts with you.

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