A foul-smelling fiasco

The mulch sofa for home composting

In the late 1980s the green movement was really taking off, and more and more people were composting their waste at home in the garden. But hardly anyone had ever tried composting indoors – and IKEA wanted to change that.

IKEA felt it was unfair that only house owners with a garden had an easy way to turn their banana peels and coffee grounds into topsoil. A Swedish professor looked at ways of composting indoors, for example in a kitchen sofa bench. When IKEA saw the professor’s prototype of a sofa with built-in compost solution, the idea for the RENO mulch sofa was born.

RENO was launched with an instruction video: a family feed organic waste into a wooden sofa, while a child enthusiastically shouts, “Wow, it smells of compost!”

Enthusiastic launch

The RENO mulch sofa was presented in 1994, an eco-friendly idea to enable families who lived in apartments to do indoor composting. The enthusiastic catalogue text claimed that, “With the right equipment, it’s easy to sort your waste – which is crucial if you want it to be recycled.”

The RENO series also included lidded waste containers in different sizes, as well as bin bag holders. But the light wood sofa was the jewel in the crown! Under the seat were boxes for composting organic material. Using compost worms, the proud RENO owner could get perfect planting soil after just three weeks.

The whole thing had to be turned over and regularly sprinkled with soil.

A rotten idea

As well as a rotting smell in the kitchen, the mulch sofa also required too much attention. Spending your time and energy on the environment was quite a new idea in the 1990s. It was bad enough having to carry newspapers and phone directories to the recycling station, so also having to dig around in waste was something that consumers found quite unpleasant.

In the sofa, newspaper and egg-boxes had to be torn up to absorb the moisture among the leftover food. The whole thing had to be turned over and regularly sprinkled with soil. When the family finally had a nice pile of compost in the kitchen bench, it was time to add the earthworms.

RENO became a foul-smelling fiasco, but the idea was good. As always, IKEA learnt from its mistakes, and did not give up. As interest in eco matters grew and waste management systems improved, the product developers continued to work on new ideas.

Today, IKEA has a wide range of products that help the many people to sort waste in their apartments – but it leaves the composting to the local council. Ultimately, the mulch sofa was way ahead of its time.


A foul-smelling fiasco
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