Jul 24, 2014

Could Mushrooms Be the Answer to Plastic Packaging

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A beautiful basket of mushroomsPackaging materials such as Styrofoam and plastic have now been around for many decades. Unfortunately, with the passage of time, large quantities of both non-biodegradable materials have accumulated in our landfills. Although producing these materials is cheap enough that companies can afford to use them as packaging materials when shipping items, significant energy expenditures are still involved in creating plastic and Styrofoam. Because both materials are derived from petroleum products, their production depletes finite oil reserves. There are clearly many negatives to traditional packaging materials, so alternatives are always being explored.


Could Fungi Be the Answer to Plastic Packaging?


The amazing mushroom.Currently, many scientists and entrepreneurs are looking for solutions to the ecological problems posed by traditional packaging materials, and increasingly attention has focused on an unlikely but promising possibility: mushrooms. Although many biomaterials and biodegradable materials are available today, the potential of packaging produced through a process that uses mushrooms and agricultural waste is showing rare tenacity in the marketplace and leading many to wonder, “Could mushrooms be the answer to plastic packaging?”

The Value of Mushrooms


The process of creating packaging by using mushrooms and agricultural waste was developed several years ago. The value results from the tendency of a mushroom's mycelium to bind together the materials in which it is growing. This factor is exploited in the production of mushroom packaging, with agricultural waste products serving as the “soil” for the mycelium. The mycelium lies beneath the mushroom head and is bound together in such a way that it can be grown into molds that create a cushioning material in any shape or form.

Advantages of Mushroom Packaging


Bioplastics can be made into compostable packaging containersMushroom packaging offers many of the advantages of traditional packaging materials while avoiding the disadvantages. The biggest advantages may be that producing mushroom packaging does not rely on any non-renewable materials such as petroleum and does not require a significant amount of water (other than that which is necessary to produce the agricultural waste material). Additionally, mushroom packaging contains no harmful toxins or even allergens, so it can even be eaten. It is also a great addition to a compost pile due to its ability to aerate and nourish soil.

Furthermore, mushroom packaging is not only fully biodegradable, but also rapidly biodegradable, breaking down in six to nine months, producing no harmful substances or chemicals. This is in striking contrast to plastic, which is almost entirely non-biodegradable, being broken down through a process of photodegredation that produces tiny pieces of toxic byproducts such as polystyrene (PS) oligomer and bisphenol A (BPA).

Mushroom Enthusiasts


Current enthusiasm for developing the surprisingly simple biotechnology behind mushroom packaging is high. Both businesses and sustainability-conscious consumers are intrigued by the efficiency and affordability of the concept, and will no doubt be interested in profiting from the process in as many ways as possible in the future.


Already, mushroom packaging is being used by Dell and Crate & Barrel to package electronics and furniture. Although mushroom packaging as a technology is still in its infancy, its potential is currently boundless. Hopefully, mushroom packaging will eventually decrease Styrofoam and plastic production in other ways including applications as diverse as the production of insulation, surfboard cores, and disposable cups.

The Promise of Mushrooms


Could mushrooms be the answer to plastic packaging? At the moment, this new technique is showing the most promise in terms of sustainability and efficiency. Most likely, mushroom packaging will be developed and applied in increasingly more ways in the coming years. It will be interesting to see what researches and engineers develop using this clever technology.


Image courtesy of FreeDigitalPhotos.net


Jeff Giedt

Jeff Giedt

Jeff Giedt is vice president and general manager of Pioneer Packaging in Phoenix, AZ. Pioneer Packaging is a division of the Heritage Pioneer Corporate Group, a leading packaging manufacturing company and distributor of corrugated boxes, packaging materials and equipment, with 16 locations across the western United States.

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