Sustainable packaging from “mushroom materials”

Sustainable packaging from “mushroom materials”

A US company has developed a successful line of “mushroom materials” that can be used as a compostable, biodegradable replacement for polystyrene and other packaging derived from hydrocarbons. The company,

The company has developed a method of “growing” packaging materials from regionally sourced agricultural waste such as straw using the fungal material mycelium. The mycelium grows and branches out into the agricultural waste, binding it together. The resulting material can be moulded to shape, for example to make box inserts to prevent goods moving in transit. After use, the material can be broken up and re-used as loose-fill packaging, or simply composted.

The idea behind the business was born in 2007 at the Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, New York, where two green-minded students, Eben Bayer and Gavin McIntyre, developed their first specimen. Now, according to Ecovative spokeswoman Melissa Jacobsen, “we see more demand everyday for these products. Our goal is to replace unsustainable and toxic materials with compostable alternatives wherever possible, but to also do so in a way that is economically sensible for our customers and Ecovative.”

As well as mushroom packaging, Ecovative produces Myco Board, an alternative to MDF that can be used in furniture and construction. It is also derived from plant wastes bound together using mycelium and, unlike standard boards, does not use chemicals for binding. Ecovative also produces Grow-It-Yourself kits, which enable anyone to grow “mushroom material” products.

Jacobsen says, “for every product that we produce, we are essentially displacing a harmful or toxic material from going out into the environment. Our products come entirely from nature, and when their useful life is over, these products return to the earth as nutrients. We're not only reducing pollution and waste by creating biodegradable alternatives, but we're doing so by harnessing the efficiencies of nature – keeping our carbon footprint significantly smaller than the standard manufacturing processes.”

Jacobsen adds that the mushroom packaging materials compete on cost with the materials that they replace. Ecovative has been recognised at a high level, being a runner-up in the Young Global Leaders Award for Circular Economy Entrepreneurship, at the Davos World Economic Forum Circular Economy Awards 2015.