How mushrooms turn agricultural biowaste into packaging, furniture and more
Plastics are a major source of pollution. What if we could replace them with new materials created by mushrooms?
Wed, Nov 06, 2013 at 12:46 PM
We already know that plastics are choking up our oceans and they are even poisoning our food, but are there any viable alternatives?
From discarded eggshells to bananas, we're not short of potential feedstocks for bioplastics. But one company is taking the idea a step further — instead of creating bioplastics from plants, it wants to replace plastics outright with a mushroom-based material that it grows. We've reported on Ecovative's efforts to replace packaging peanuts with mushroom mycelium before, but as The Guardian reports, the company has since expanded its horizons, working on everything from insulation grown inside a house to a replacement for Styrofoam that's grown on agricultural biowaste (discarded corn stalks) that it buys from farmers:
What's noteworthy about Ecovative is that the company is trying to redesign products, not merely to manufacture them more efficiently. "Our product is not just less bad," says Eben Bayer, the 28-year-old CEO and co-founder of Ecovative. "It's better." That said, Ecovative's environmental claims have yet to be independently verified. The company says it looks forward to producing a peer-reviewed life cycle assessment "in the future." Packaging is just the first opportunity for Ecovative, Bayer said. The company started out by working on a home insulation product, and has returned to that task. Recently, Ecovative "grew" the insulation in a mushroom "tiny house", and it plans to exhibit a new product dubbed Mushroom Insulation at the big GreenBuild conference next month in Philadelphia.On the horizon, too, is a product that the company is calling Myco Boards, which could replace fiberboard in furniture and other products. That would reduce the pressure on forests and eliminate the formaldehyde adhesives used in fiberboard, Bayer claims.
The company's efforts are beginning to take root, with its mushroom-based insulation recently winning a prestigious green design accolade in the form of the 2013 Buckminster Fuller Challenge. The insulation works as the other products do, by relying on hungry mushroom roots, or mycelium, to consume crop waste.
Here's more from company founder Bayer about how the company's technology works and why it matters:
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