Plastic eating mushrooms

Even though the realm of fungi can help us make burial suits or edible lamps, I still remain the most impressed and hopeful at the prospect of us having packaging made of mycelium instead of petroleum. The fact that we could replace the unrecyclable Styrofoam with bio-degradable material definitely is good news for the ones who become depressed at the sight the unnecessary wrapping in supermarkets.  However, what do we do with the billions of tons of plastic that still float in our oceans or remain in our mounting landfills? Truth is there is still a lot of waste which is still polluting our environment and we have no idea how to get rid of it.

Luckily for us, the University of Utrecht is determined to experiment in every way possible with mushrooms and their fantastic possibilities. This time, they teamed up with Livin Studio, a collaborative design development office that gathers inventors, innovators, designers, culinary artists and scientist under the same roof. This project is called Fungi Mutarium and it aims to create a new fungi food product grown on plastic waste alongside building the apparatus to grow it.

The process starts with the plastic being UV treated in the “Activation Cylinder”, which is at the bottom of the mutarium. This step is necessary because the UV rays will sterilize the plastic and trigger the decomposition process of the material, thus making it easier for the fungus to break down. Then, the “FU”s are placed in the mutarium’s “Growth Sphere” with the help of some pincers for the work to be as sterile as possible. To explain, “FU” is the shape on which the fungus grows and it is made from agar – a seaweed based gelatin substitute. This is also mixed with starch and sugar, which both work as a nutrient base for the fungus. The fungi that they use are Schizophyllum commune and Pleurotus ostreatus that can be found anywhere in the world.

The shape of the FU was designed to hold the plastic but as well to offer enough space for the mushroom to grow. And because it is intended to be eaten by people, the Growth Sphere was made to resemble the harvesting mushrooms in the wild.

The plastic is then inserted in the FU to be digested and then the liquid nutrient solution in which there are fungi sprouts is dropped unto the FU’s to kindle the growing process. After a couple of weeks the plastic disappears and what is left is a FU which is edible due to the fact that the mushroom breaks down the plastic without storing it, like in the case of metals.

This experiment, doesn’t aim to digest all the plastic waste there is in the world, but rather to come up with a new technology to farm under extreme environmental conditions. However, it does prove that plastic can be broken down by fungi.

Another interesting fungus able to break down plastic is Pestalotiopsis microspora (found in the Amazon forest), an incredible fungus known also to break down styrofoam and plastic by-products.


A report by Ioana Popescu


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