Mushroom packaging fights world plastic pollution



As far as I know, every person who has Internet connection is well aware of the continuous stream of news about the pollution of our planet and how the future on planet Earth doesn’t look too bright. Even though some people might continue disbelieving or may not want to accept it, we are facing a lot of environmental problems. And one of them is plastic and our dependence on it.

Plastic has been around for less than a century, but still, it has permeated every aspect of our life. In our society, it is extremely hard, almost impossible to live a plastic free life – even the vegetables you buy from the supermarket are uselessly wrapped in plastic. And this overuse and the reckless disposal of it has led the scientists to predict that by 2050, there will be more plastic in the ocean than marine life. Sure, it may be hard to believe. Most of us are not aware what happens to our waste after we throw it away. But for scientists or for people who live near beaches, who are seeing how trash washes on their shore every day, it is an obvious fact.

So, after hearing at breakfast about the huge pile of trash in the Pacific, three times the size of France, it seems very important for people to think about alternatives to plastic, which we discard so easily.

One solution came from the company I’ve already written about –Ecovative. They have successfully created “fungi packaging”, this way replacing the Styrofoam packaging, the generally known polystyrene. The latter uses oil, a limited resource in an energy-consuming process. It is hard to recycle and usually ends its life cycle in our oceans, taking too much time to degrade.

After two years of trial and error they managed to create this awesome alternative to Styrofoam. This is how fungi packaging comes to life: first, the company buys agricultural byproducts such as corn husks from local farms and cleans it. Then, the mycelium is added and is left for a few days. As it reaches out to digest the agricultural waste, the mycelium grows fibers. Afterwards, the mixture is broken into loose particles which are left in a shaped mould for a couple of days. Just like Styrofoam, the mycelium takes the shape of the mould and forms a solid shape. The shape is removed from the mould and dried to prevent the mushroom to grow and spread spores.

Even though small, Ecovative has evidently managed to draw attention to itself; it won Dutch Postcode Lottery Green Challenge, a global $750,000 sustainable business prize. In 2011, the World Economic Forum named it a “technology pioneer”. It also won grants by the US EPA, the National Science Foundation and the US Department of Agriculture.

Ecovative also signed to license its packaging technology to Sealed Air, a packaging and material company that makes for example Bubble Wrap. Sealed Air will help Ecovative advertise and sell the “fungi packaging” – the customers include Dell, Steelcase and Crate & Barrel. In addition, Ikea plans to replace its packaging with mushroom packaging.

However, Ecovative are not the only ones who are looking hopefully into the future. University of Utrecht is currently experimenting with fungi, trying to emulate different types of plastic, more elastic or harder ones, enabling more than one type of plastic being replaced with an organic alternative.

Hopefully, the future is fungi.

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A report by Ioana Popescu


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