Many plastic products can take thousands of years to break down, which means all the plastics we use — such as single-use plastic bottles and bags — present a major landfill problem, not to mention a pollution problem, because many plastics can be toxic in the environment. But researchers at Utretcht University have come up with an ingenious solution to this predicament: making the plastic something we can eat, reports Fast Company.
The project is called the Fungi Mutarium, a tabletop farm that uses edible mushrooms to break down the plastic, thus transforming it into a tasty snack.
"Farmers are increasingly dealing with extreme environmental conditions to produce food," said designer Katharina Unger. "Fungi Mutarium is a projection of how new biotechnologies might be applied to grow edible material on so far harmful or even toxic waste material."
The system works by first sterilizing the plastic trash with UV light, which also helps start the degradation process. Next the bits of plastic are placed in edible, jelly-like cups made of agar, an algae product that is often used as a vegetarian alternative for gelatin. Lastly, they add fungi sprouts, which are capable of digesting the plastic. Once the plastic is gone, the fungi plus the cups are ready to be munched on.
"It's ready to eat when there is no more visible plastic material inside," explained Unger. "At that point, it is overgrown with fluffy white mycelium."
The resultant edible has a familiar mushroom taste, but different flavors can be added to the agar cups to suit your palate. Designers have come up with several custom flavor mixtures, such as a sweet-and-sour mango and carrot combination, as well as a dessert version that uses chocolate and peach puree. They promise that the recipes are delectable and don't taste anything like plastic.
The two types of fungi used in the prototypes were the oyster mushroom and the "split gill," both of which remain edible even as their root-like mycelium suck up plastic. Other types of edible mushrooms could also potentially work. And there is not yet any indication that the harmful compounds from the plastics accumulate in the mushrooms, which means that they're just as safe to eat as mushrooms grown with ordinary diets.
Researchers admit that more thorough study will be required before these mushrooms can be confidently deemed safe to eat, but so far the results look good.
To see more about how these plastic-eating edible mushrooms are grown, you can watch the video showcasing the process at top.
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