business circular economy technology waste

Replacing plastics with … mushrooms

In a circular economy, all materials either need to be reusable or safely biodegradeable. Many common forms of plastic are neither of those things, and are thus something of an environmental hazard. Oil based and non-biodegradeable, plastics accumulate in landfill or in ocean gyres, and accumulate in the bodies of birds and animals too.

Ecovative's Mushroom® Packaging cradle wine shipperBut plastics are also incredibly useful, so the race is on to find alternative materials that are as versatile. There are a bunch of options, many of them very familiar, but one of the most extraordinary is the biomaterials approach of a company called Ecovative. They have pioneered materials that are grown, not manufactured. They call them mushroom materials.

There’s a very simple natural process behind mushroom materials. The genius is in streamlining it to the point that you can base a factory around it. In an nutshell, they start with an agricultural waste product such as straw, woodchips or come to think of it, nutshells. This is pressed into a mould, and placed in the right conditions to trigger the growth of mycelium. These fungal roots surround the waste and bind it together in a natural glue. A simple heat treatment kills off the growth, and you have a grown-to-order shape.

mushroom materials

That shape could be almost anything. It could be reinforced corners for packaging, insulation paneling, a surf board, or ‘myco board’ – a more sustainable alternative to hardboard. You can vary textures and strengths by using different waste products, creating a real variety of possible uses.

Ecovative started in 2007 as a student project. They are now a Cradle to Cradle certified company that ships packaging materials around the world, with new applications being developed all the time. In fact, if you’ve got an idea for how mushroom materials could be used, you can order a kit and experiment with the process yourself.

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