It is heartening to see manufacturers developing biodegradable alternatives to fossil fuel based plastics and polystyrene. Polystyrene, made from petroleum, is a classic example of a ‘single use product’ that has devastating effects on the environment.
In 2018, Swedish furniture retailer Ikea replaced polystyrene packaging with biodegradable mycelium or “mushroom packaging” to reduce waste and increase recycling, joining companies such as Dell, Coca Cola, P&G and other brands that have switched to eco-friendly alternative packaging.
Polystyrene is made from petroleum which, according to Harvard’s, fact-sheet on the product, creates pollution during manufacturing, is non-sustainable, non-renewable, not biodegradable and harmful to wildlife that ingest it.
Despite these distressing facts, more than 14 million tons end up in landfills every year, according to the French ministry of ecology. At this rate it is estimated that by 2050, 99% of the planet’s birds will have plastic in their guts.
The alternative, called Mushroom Packaging, developed by American company Ecovative Design by growing mycelium around clean agricultural waste, such as corn stalks or husks. Over a few days, the fungus fibers binds the waste, forming a solid shape which is then heat treated to prevent further growth.
Joanna Yarrow, head of sustainability for Ikea in the U.K., said of mushroom packaging: “The great thing about mycelium is you can grow it into a mold that then fits exactly. You can create bespoke packaging.”
Sound environmental reasons for using mushroom packaging includes: uses only 12% of energy compared to plastic production; 90% less carbon emissions compared to plastic manufacture; Fungi based packaging uses up carbon dioxide incorporated in packaging material; when disposed of, decomposes or composted it returns the carbon dioxide into the soil; decomposes within 30-90 days; has no dangerous side effects when ingested by organisms.