Is the end nigh for MDF board?

It’s everywhere, big and small, in exhibitions and art fairs, homes and offices: “Medium Density Fiberboard (MDF) used in a raw dry environment”, otherwise known simply in France as medium.

But what is the lifecycle of an MDF board? To find out, it’s simple, you have to make your EPD or Environmental Product Declaration! Let’s focus on its impact on the climate by looking at its carbon emissions:

1m² of 25mm thick wood panels, made in France, consists of wood fibers (14.4 kg of fibers for 1m²) and a binder (3.4 kg of glue for 1m²). This surface captures 23.4 kg of CO2 eq in production (by the growth of trees which capture CO2), and releases 24.7 kg of CO2 eq during its elimination (by combustion) at the end of its life… Taking into account all of the stages of its lifecycle, its total net release is 4.4 kg of CO2 eq. So 100m² of medium, 440 kg of CO2 eq.

What is the solution? Make the piece of MDF board last as long as possible by reusing it and then reusing again. Great, it can theoretically last 100 years!

Or you can choose more ecological MDF, made from recycled and recovered wood fibers (pre-consumption) which contains less glue (thermosetting glue based on formalin) and chemicals. And it’s much better for your health, because yes, MDF board has big environmental consequences related to human health. Class E MDF (guaranteed with less than 8mg of formaldehyde glue per 100g) and MDF certified NAF (Non Added Formaldehyde) by CARB (California Air Resource Board) has as little formaldehyde as natural wood (less than 2mg / 100g of dry material). For its part, the German eco-label Nature Plus takes health into account by, for example, guaranteeing the absence of Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs).

So it needs to be flame retardant? No problem, it also exists in this version. (For example: at Uniboard (Canada) the MDF NU Green® FR Flame Retardant.) And if you want to paint it? With green paint of course, like seaweed paint! And what about bamboo MDF? The ecological balance is very bad unless you live in Asia! In which case, why not just use raw wood instead? Good idea, the end of life is valuable but it is not a guarantee that the chemicals will completely disappear. Good to know: in France, oak is less susceptible to attack, so there is a better chance of finding it without chemical treatment… but it will be more expensive!


Philippe Osset and Alice Audouin


April 2021

Find the Impact Art News n°29 – April 2021

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