Can Mushrooms Replace Plastic?

Can mushrooms replace plastic?

Yes, and so much more. Design company Ecovative, based in New York, is testing the limits of exactly what its high performance biomaterials, grown from mycelium (the “roots” of mushrooms) and agricultural waste, can do. To date, the company has developed materials that can replace plastic foam like Styrofoam and engineered wood (also known as composite wood). Ecovative’s Mushroom® Packaging has already displaced petroleum-derived materials in tens of thousands of packages with home-compostable alternatives and the company is just getting started.

How are Ecovative products better for the world?

Companies like Dow and Dupont have been leading the way in material design for the past 100 years by turning petroleum and natural gas into plastics and other materials. These materials can take millions of years to break down and are filling up our landfills and waterways. Unlike plastics and foams, Ecovative’s materials are bio-based, sustainable, and are actually good for the environment. When customers receive a package that utilizes Mushroom® Packaging, they can compost the packaging at home or have it sent to an industrial composting facility. While plastic foams will last forever in a landfill, Mushroom® Packaging will return nutrients to the soil. Aside from being rapidly renewable, these materials achieve a Class A fire rating without any chemical fire retardants, and have low to no VOC emissions.

What can Ecovative products replace?

To date, Ecovative has commercialized three products: Mushroom® Packaging, a plastic foam replacement for protective packaging; Myco Board, which is an alternative to engineered woods like particleboard and fiberboard; and Grow It Yourself kits, which are intended to promote sustainable design and products by getting their material into the hands of the public.

The company’s Research and Development team is continually researching new applications for this revolutionary biomaterial. For instance, they’re exploring applications for surfing and automotive applications. Looking further into the future, they have bold ideas for “smart” materials for circuitry and even medical implants that leverage the self-assembling nature of mycelium, along with its biocompatibility characteristics. The first application of this research will likely be something along the lines of a mycelium-based “bone” custom molded into the exact shape your body needs, such as a hip or knee.

It’s inspiring to imagine the possibilities if humans replaced plastic and other synthetic materials with biocompatible materials like Ecovative’s.

This article appeared in Issue 1 | Winter 2015

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