When unpacking most electronics or mail-in products, chances are we’re left with a pile of plastic packaging. While useful in ensuring we get our products safely, it’s aggravating to know that those plastics get used only once and then are thrown away, discarded in landfills and unable to decompose for almost 10,000 years. This realization is one of the key inspirations for Eben Bayer and Gavin McIntyre, two entrepreneurs who sought to find an eco-friendly alternative to traditional plastic packaging. Their company, EcoVative, achieves this goal by using mycelium (the root system of mushrooms) to create a moldable and decomposable pseudo-plastic.
Currently, EcoVative is creating biodegradable packaging for furniture, electronic and wine companies – with much success. A part of their prosperity in the shipping business lies in the ease-of-use and flexibility of their product. Their mushroom-based packages take as much time to grow as plastic is to make, while their density, strength, and texture can be changed to suit the order. Of course, this is not to mention the product’s high quality and competitive price tag.
The biggest advantage that EcoVative has over its competition, eco-friendly or otherwise, lies in its growing processes. Unlike other green packing companies, which use essential and edible materials such as seeds and shoots, EcoVative uses only byproducts, such as oat husks and rice hulls. Using these organic wastes as fuel, the mushrooms form an expansive network of mycelium in the exact shape of their container.
After about a week of growth, this dense network is heated and solidified, whereupon they can be used for commercial packaging. What’s more is that the mushrooms need little maintenance aside from the plant waste used to feed them – they don’t need any light, water, or, most importantly, wasteful petrochemicals to be created.
For those who worry that EcoVative’s products will degrade before delivery, have no fear. It takes the warm, damp, bacteria-laden conditions of a garden to truly start the composting process. What this means is that this living polymer is a prime alternative for many other plastic products. Bayer and McIntyre hope to expand their business to replace traditional plastic consumer products, such as bowls and picture frames.
What could be an even greater opportunity for this green company lies in foreign production. In fact, start-up to create your own fungus-based product is relatively small, with the company already beta-testing a Grow-It-Yourself kit for consumers. This could give third-world communities a viable alternative to commercially shipping for products, an act which is both costly and environmentally inefficient.
Currently, EcoVative is expanding its production to supply even more commercial needs. In due time, and with a bit more research, we could be driving, typing, and calling with living plastic – just one more step to living in a truly green world.