One of the largest furniture brands in the world has made it their mission to cut down on packaging waste. I had written a post several weeks ago about IKEA – and my love for the company as a whole – and it makes me so happy to see this. Now, the article I had found was from about 6 months ago, and I haven’t been to an actual store of theirs in that time frame. So I can’t back up my findings just yet. But let me get to it: packaging made of mushrooms.
Sounds kind of freaky. But also really really cool. The process goes something like this:
agricultural byproducts such as husk, oat hulls and cotton burrs, are pressed into a desired shape that can fit around items to be packaged. Then, it is seeded with mushroom spores that sprout mycelium (a root structure) after a few days. The mycelium threads rapidly through the structure and binds it together to form a shock-resistant and durable packaging material. The last step is to heat-treat the material to kill spores in order to arrest further growth of the fungus.Medium
I recently posted about different plastic and their processes. So as someone who knows the basics on that, I find it extremely fascinating reading the above information. I can imagine this might take a lot longer to make (who knows how rapidly mushroom spores actually grow; I’ll have to research that another time) than a typical injection molded piece. But as an alternative to styrofoam – which is ungodly terrible for the environment – it’s a huge step in the right direction.
As a small tangent, if you’re interested in learning about a young boy who recently invented a way to recycle styrofoam, then watch this short TED talk! Super cool.
So, besides the biodegradable factor, what are the benefits to mushroom packaging? Here’s a few Medium listed:
- It uses only 12% of the energy used in plastic production.
- It produces 90% less carbon emissions than produced during plastic manufacture.
- The total amount of carbon dioxide component in atmosphere remains almost undisturbed by growing fungi-based packaging. Fungi uses up carbon dioxide that gets incorporated into the packaging material. On disposal, packaging material gets decomposed or composted and returns the carbon dioxide back into the soil.
- It decomposes with 30–90 days. Even if it is ingested by organisms, it has no dangerous side effects, although it has no nutritional benefits either.
- Alternative packaging is a lucrative economic avenue. The global market for sustainable packaging is poised to reach more than US $142 billion in coming years. Presently, bio-plastics and green materials just constitute 1% of total packaging market share, so there is immense growth potential for manufacturers in this segment.
- Rural communities can benefit financially by supplying agricultural wastes to mycelium manufacturers.
Hopefully this becomes a lot more accessible to companies worldwide. As IKEA sets the new standard for packaging, I’m curious to see what comes next!