Technology

In the Packaging Wars, Can Shrooms Overtake Styrofoam?

DiscoblogBy Smriti RaoMar 1, 2010 5:07 PM
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When it comes to packaging a precious TV or even a pricey vase, mushrooms aren't the first things that pop to mind as a durable alternative to Styrofoam or cardboard. But a company called Ecovative Design has used mushroom roots, the part of the fungus that's called the mycelium, as a sturdy material that can be used for packaging. The creators say that the process is so simple, they grew the first samples under their beds. The first step in creating the packaging, called the “Eco Cradle,” is to grow the thin, hair-like mycelia by feeding them agricultural waste like buckwheat hulls, rice hulls, or cotton burrs. Discovery News reports:

After about a week or so, tons of tiny white fibers appear. The material is then dried to halt the growing process, creating packaging with impressive durability that is also biodegradable and compostable.

The creators claim the entire process uses about 10 times less energy per unit of material than the manufacturing of synthetic foams--making this fungal product an environmentally friendly option to Styrofoam. They add that the packaging can also be molded into different shapes, providing the best protection for delicate objects. Ecovative says it will start making packaging for two Fortune 500 companies this spring. While the all-natural material is made from mushroom parts, Ecovative notes that the stuff shouldn't be tossed into your stir-fry. You could eat it, the company notes in its FAQ, "but it's non-nutritious and doesn't taste very good, so we don't recommend it."

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Related Content: DISCOVER: The Year in Science: Chemistry 1997 DISCOVER: In His Own Words: Dr. Mushroom DISCOVER: Raw Data: Do Magic Mushrooms Make You Mystical? DISCOVER: Fossil Fungus DISCOVER: The Biology of . . . TrufflesImage: Ecovative Design

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