Mushrooms are being used to produce eco friendly packaging material. Not only is the process of creating packaging from mushrooms saving on paper and other materials, it is also almost entirely free from energy consumption and at the end of the day, the packaging can simply be composted.
Two undergraduates from Rensselaer Polytechnic, Gavin McIntyre and Eben Bayer with backing from the National Science Foundation developed their idea of an alternative to packing foam. It is already on sale.
The method of creating mushroom packaging is amazingly simple. The mycelia which are the masses of branching hyphae are grown within moulded plastic structures that determine the final outcome. This way it is easy to create custom products by just creating a new mould. The mushrooms are initially fed an agricultural starter material such as wood fibre or cotton seed to get them going, and then they get on with it by themselves.
Only 12% of the energy that would normally be used in manufacturing packaging is used in the mushroom process as well as saving 90% on carbon dioxide emissions.
Explaining the process, McIntyre said, “We don't manufacture materials, we grow them,' adding that 'We're converting agricultural by-products into a higher-value product.'
Once the packaging is fully formed it is heat treated to stop the growing process and it’s out for delivery. Due to the nature of the product, McIntyre says that they are not vulnerable to price fluctuations of raw materials as 'All of our raw materials are inherently renewable and they are literally waste streams.' In fact 'It's an open system based on biological materials.'
They want to later develop a packaged kit so shipping facilities and other concerns can grow their own packaging requirements. Homeowners will also be able to buy the kit.
McIntyre is also working on a natural way to sterilise the mushrooms so that there are no unwanted spores competing for space within the growing moulds. In the search for the best method he came across a totally natural sterilisation system. He said: 'The biological disinfection process simply emulates nature in that it uses compounds that plants have evolved over centuries to inhibit microbial growth.'