Eco-Alternative for Styro packing material…hooray!

GREEN ISLAND, N.Y. – Turns out that mushrooms — great in soups and salads — also make decent packaging material.

Gavin McIntyre, left, and Eben Bayer, co-founders of Ecovative Design, with some of their eco-friendly packaging materials.

 

By Mike Groll, AP

Gavin McIntyre, left, and Eben Bayer, co-founders of Ecovative Design, with some of their eco-friendly packaging materials.

 

By Mike Groll, AP

Gavin McIntyre, left, and Eben Bayer, co-founders of Ecovative Design, with some of their eco-friendly packaging materials.

Mushrooms are a key ingredient in pale, soft blocks produced by the thousands in an upstate New York plant. The blocks are used to cushion products ranging from Dell servers to furniture for Crate and Barrel.

More precisely, the packaging blocks are made with mycelium — the hidden “roots” of the mushroom that usually thread beneath soil or wood. Two former mechanical engineering and design students in their 20s, Eben Bayer and Gavin McIntyre, figured out how to grow those cottony filaments in a way that binds together seed husks or other agricultural byproducts into packaging shapes.

  • Workers at Ecovative inoculate mycelium into pasteurized bits of seed husks or plant stalks, then place the mix into clear plastic molds shaped like the desired packaging pieces, such as a cradle-shaped mold for a wine bottle.

The mix is covered for about five days as millions of mycelium strands grow around and through the feedstock, acting as a kind of glue. The piece is heat dried to kill the fungus, insuring that mushrooms can’t sprout from it. Since the mycelium is cloned, the product does not include spores, which can trigger allergies. The packaging is edible, technically, though it doesn’t look appetizing and isn’t recommended as a snack.

Similarly, Crate and Barrel contracted with Ecovative as part of a push to reduce packaging and cut reliance on expanded polystyrene, a commonly used packing material. The home and furnishings company has a pilot program using the mushroom product for corner blocks to cushion a large room divider with shelves.

Ecovative’s products cost slightly more than expanded polystyrene, says Crate and Barrel executive Aaron Rose. But Dell’s Campbell called the difference negligible and said cost would come down as production grows.

In contrast, Ecovative’s product breaks down in six to nine months and is OK to throw on a compost pile.

There are other “green” packaging alternatives, such as starch-based packing peanuts made from grains. But Johnson said sustainable packaging alternatives that depend on potential food crops are likely nonstarters.

Ecovative recently announced a deal with Sealed Air to accelerate production, sales and distribution, and Bayer and McIntyre are starting to branch out beyond packaging. The young visionaries — Bayer is 26, McIntyre, 27 — talk about roofing material that can repair itself and a mycelium alternative to plastic office furniture. They already have contracts to work on footwear and material for car bumpers.

Essentially, if something is made of plastic, they believe there’s a decent chance it can be made of mushrooms.

Copyright 2012 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Way to go Gavin & Eben! Finally a solution to “peanut” problem:) The above article was edited by Verum Vita enabling a quick read.

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