Can mushrooms replace plastic?
Fungi have got to be the most versatile organisms on this planet, not only are they a culinary delight, able to form textiles, create micro-climates, and hold potent antibiotic properties (the list goes on)... but now they are even able to grow in to a range of shapes and sizes to produce more hardy pieces such as packaging, furniture and even surfboards.
What caught our attention was fungi’s ability to potentially replace plastic packaging. We are all fully aware by now that our planet is choking in plastic and action needs to be taken, fast. Styrofoam takes centre stage when it comes to plastic packaging that cannot be recycled and takes thousands of years to decompose. Although it does serve an important purpose by effectively encasing fragile products to prevent them from getting damaged in transport. But how can we protect our goods and save the planet?!
There are in fact a handful of companies that are exploring ways to combat this problem by creating eco-friendly packaging materials that are aimed to act like plastics but guess what...? They’re made by mushrooms!
How do they do it!?
Agricultural waste bought from farms (which adds additional income for farmers) is moulded into specific shapes and sizes and then inoculated with mushroom spores. These spores begin to grow in to mycelium, which if you have read previous blog posts you will know, that this is the vegetative part of fungi that forms thread-like roots that usually play a role in holding soil together. However, in this instance the mycelium is holding the crop waste together. The mycelium is able to spread throughout the waste, digesting and binding it together as it goes. Ultimately creating a durable, shock-resistance foam-like material, which competes with the properties of Styrofoam.
Once the mushroom foam attains the required consistency, they must stop the mycelium from growing further, this is done by heating and drying the moulded mycelium. If the right conditions are provided, the whole process only takes a matter of days.
What is even better is that once the mushroom packaging has served its initial purpose, it can be broken up and used to fertilise your garden, or thrown in lakes to feed the fish! Therefore it is not only providing the consumer with effective packaging that protects their goods but also a compostable material for their garden AND no harm to the environment throughout the whole process!
There are companies such as Ecovative, which are leading the way in mushroom packaging, they signed an agreement in 2012 to license their packaging technology to a giant in the packaging and materials industry, with customers such as Dell and Steelcase. Ikea have also announced that they are replacing their plastic packaging with compostable mushroom based packaging in efforts to reduce waste and promote eco-friendly alternatives.
We are always in search of ways in which mushrooms can change our lives for the better. If you have any or know of any innovative shroom ideas, please don't hesitate to email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Image courtesy of Ecovative Design https://ecovativedesign.com/packaging