More than 250 million tons of trash are created in the United States per year. By volume, plastic in the form of Styrofoam accounts for 25 percent of it. That is a large amount of Styrofoam, and it is not disappearing anytime soon. Styrofoam is non-biodegradable, non-recyclable, and is estimated to take 500 years to decompose.
So what can be done about this problem? Styrofoam is found in packaging, building materials, coffee cups, table tops, surfboards, and other things that most people are not willing to completely give up. Luckily, Ecovative, a small company located in Troy, New York, has found a solution: mushrooms.
After years of experimentation, Ecovative has successfully created environmentally friendly materials that perform like plastics but are made by agricultural waste and mycelium (the roots of mushrooms). The process of creating these materials is relatively simple. Mycelium serves as a binding agent or “glue” holding together all that surrounds it. It is able to grow miles of thread-like roots in days, and is able to fit to any mold. In order to form a useful material, mycelium and crop wastes are simply placed together in a mold or enclosure of the desired shape. Once placed together, the mycelium grows around and through the crop waste for five days. The finished product is a self-assembling, completely compostable, light weight, and low cost material, that can be used to create a variety of objects, and will not lay in our landfills for hundreds of years to come.
The most renowned of Ecovative’s creations is called Myco Foam. Myco Foam acts just as Styrofoam, and is used by companies like Dell and Crate & Barrel to package their products. Myco Foam is also used as wall insulation. One of Ecovative’s newer creations includes the Myco Board, which serves as an alternative to engineered woods like plywood, particleboard, and fiberboard. It can be used to create furniture, work surfaces, cabinets, billboards, and much more. Myco Flex, a biopolymer material made of mycelium, is currently in development and could be used in shoe soles, seat cushions, yoga mats, and much more.
Beyond the realm of their own creations, Ecovative also sells Mushroom Material, which allows others the freedom to grow whatever they wish. A simple starter kit costs only ten dollars. A wedding dress as well as a temporary structure called the Hy-Fi towers (as pictured on the right) has been grown using this material. If you are interested in growing something of your own or learning more about this innovative new company, I encourage you to visit ecovativedesign.com.
Written by Kara Sjostrom, ESLLC 2015-2016