Strategically placed on the University of Illinois campus are “biocubes” which are boxes constructed of oriented strain board (OSB) approximately 2′ X 2′ X 2′ and containing a little soil and a plant or two. Given that these are f**ing ugly pieces of work, I am impressed that they received the approval of the facilities site committee. This is the brainchild of Raffaele Stuparitz (no kidding – I couldn’t make this up!). Apparently this is some kind of an effort to raise awareness of environmental sustainability, for which participants will be able to receive a “Biocube T-shirt (american apparel, organic cotton, sweet design, super comfy).”

Structural panels such as OSB use phenol or urea formaldehyde and isocyanate resins as an adhesive in their construction. OSB panels are waterproof only for moderate exposure and soon degrade. Hydrolysis of the resins, especially urea formaldehyde, in a hot and humid (Hello! east central Illinois!) environment, evolve free formaldehyde. Only OSB constructed with PMDI (polymeric diphenyl methylene diisocyanate) binders are considered “green”.

So it is always amusing to see what the eco-activists select in their quest for “making a statement”. OSB was clearly selected because it is cheap! But sustainable — no probably not — unless the much more expensive PMDI version was obtained, or they planted palms or spider plants instead of grass.