Ikea, the Swedish furniture giant, revealed plans to start using an eco-friendly replacement for polystyrene: packaging created with fungi.
In its efforts to become more eco-conscious, the company is trying to reduce waste as much as possible and increase recycling. Ikea representatives say that many of their products come in polystyrene, which is one of the most commonly used and most difficult materials to recycle. Hence, Ikea is considering alternative, sustainable materials, with one of them being good old fungi, 'employed' by Evocative to do its magic and literally grow environmentally-friendly packaging.
Eben Bayer from Evocative, a biomaterials company creating and scaling environmentally-friendly products that are cost and performance competitive with conventional materials, told the audience of a TED lecture that he and his team are "using mushrooms to create an entirely new class of materials, which perform a lot like plastics during their use, but are made from crop waste and are totally compostable at the end of their lives."
By figuring that "mushrooms are the recycling system in nature", Evocative turned to mycelium that, according to Bayer, is a self-assembling material, using what humans consider to be waste and transforming it into a chitinous polymer, capable of forming any kind of shape. According to Ecovative, the company first receives agricultural waste from regional farmers, which is then cleaned and introduced to mycelium. The mixture is bagged for a few days in order for the mycelium to grow, feeding on agricultural waste. Trying to digest it, it forms a matrix of white fibers and each particle in the mixture gets coated in mycelium. After that, the mixture is broken up into loose particles that are put into a mould of specific shape. For a few days, mycelium grows through and around the particles, forming a solid structure and filling any void space. When it's solid enough, it's removed from the tool and dried to stop growth as well as prevent it from producing mushrooms or spores.
The so-called 'mushroom packaging' is - among other advantages - price competitive with most fabricated plastic foams, home-compostable and sustainable, non-abrasive and custom designed to fit particular products. It can be for example used to pack and protect industrial equipment, electronics, furniture and ceramics or glassware.
On top of that, mycelium packaging, unlike polystyrene that takes thousands of years to decompose, biodegrades naturally within a couple of weeks.