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Are mushrooms the future for sustainable packaging?

A close up of mushrooms being cooked in a pot, showcasing sustainable packaging.

Just like marmite, mushrooms are the vegetable that split opinion. Some people love them for their nutty taste and ability to bulk out the humble Bolognese, whilst others hate their slimy texture and slug like appearance. Wherever you sit on the fungi fence, we’ll bet there’s one thing you never guessed about mushrooms – they make a pretty great substitute for plastic.

Believe it or not, mushrooms have transcended the food world, and are now being used for home insulation, fibreboard for furniture, produce packaging, even surfboards.

No we haven’t been eating the magic variety, this is seriously legit.

Let us introduce you to Eben Bayer, CEO and founder of Ecovative, a US based company residing in the appropriately named Green Island in NY. Ecovative’s mission is to ‘envision, develop, produce and market Earth friendly materials which, unlike conventional synthetics, can have a positive impact on our planet’s ecosystem’.

One of Ecovative’s core purposes is to replace the commonly used Styrofoam (the squeaky stuff used in packaging) with a more sustainable, eco-friendly alternative. Styrofoam is made of polystyrene, which in turn is made of plastic, and is commonly used for only a limited amount of time before being thrown away, taking thousands of years to degrade (if it hasn’t already made its way to our beaches or ocean).

sustainable packaging - Image of takeaway packaging

To combat this ‘white toxic stuff’ as Bayer calls it, Ecovative have identified the magical powers of mycelium – the thread like roots of mushrooms that have the ability to consume crop waste, in so doing creating a firm, mouldable structure that is not only completely harmless to the environment, but is also renewable and biodegradable.

Cool huh?

Companies like Dell and Stanhope Seta are already using Myco Foam (mushroom packaging) to protect their products, and best of all Ecovative have now released the Myco Make –  a grow it yourself program which provides you with all the tools and tips to create your own projects and products out of raw material. So far home made designs have included light fixtures, teddy bears and even a wedding dress – the possibilities are literally endless!

sustainable packaging - image of the myco make

Want to learn more? Check out this TED Talk Bayer did back in 2010, super inspirational.