Ecovative Design, a five-year-old company founded by former mechanical engineering and design students Eben Bayer and Gavin McIntyre, having been using packaging blocks made of mycelium. What is mycelium? It is the hidden roots of the mushroom that lies beneath dirt or wood. Bayer and McIntyre found an innovative way to grow the filaments so they bind together seed husks producing packaging shapes.
As a child growing up on a farm in Vermont, Bayer noticed the mycelium’s unique stretchy property. While students, Bayer and McIntyre started their venture with mushroom-based insulation and switched gears to packaging material. Not only did they experiment with products, but the two innovators experimented with a wide variety of mushrooms before finding the perfect blend.
How is this mycelium-cloned product made? Mycelium is added to pasteurized bits of plant stalks or seed husks and placed into clear plastic molds that provide the shape. The secret mix is covered for five days and millions of mycelium strands grow acting like glue. Then it is heat dried to kill the fungus, and thereby guaranteeing mushrooms cannot grow from it. And because the mycelium is cloned, it does not have spores and therefore, won’t cause allergies.
The duo have com far considering six years ago they are students at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute and today they provide cushion products for Dell Inc. servers to furniture for Crate and Barrel, recently announced a deal with Sealed Air Corp. (known for Bubble Wrap), are currently expanding their line and have more than $10 million in grants and equity investment.
Dell announced in a press release last year the environmental reasons why they chose mushroom packaging, despite the higher costs:
The process works like this. Waste product—like cotton hulls—are placed in a mold which is then inoculated with mushroom spawn. Our cushions take 5-10 days to grow as the spawn, which become the root structure — or by the scientific name, mycelium — of the mushroom. All the energy needed to form the cushion is supplied by the carbohydrates and sugars in the ag waste. There’s no need for energy based on carbon or nuclear fuels.
The environmental advantage this packing material provides is unparalleled. The traditional polystyrene is cheaper, but comes at a cost: It is made with toxic chemicals and breaks down slowly. Evocative’s products, on the other hand, is biodegradable as it can break down in six to nine months.
According to Australia’s Cleanup.org:
Polystyrene foam is bulky and non- degradable, meaning that it takes up a significant volume of landfill over long periods. Because it is composed of around 95% air, foam is highly mobile and escapes from garbage bins and landfill. It tends to flake, with small pieces of litter travelling long distances and harming wildlife upon ingestion.
The only drawback the mushroom packaging has, currently, is the higher costs. But as current clients have appropriately pointed out, the costs would go down once more manufacturers will get on board and increase the quantity of products produced.