With interminable amounts of plastic garbage breaking into smaller, infinitesimal bits—floating on top and sinking below the ocean, pervading the air we breathe and accumulating on land—it’s about time humanity shifts away from the production of petroleum-based products and finds smarter alternatives.
And as is the case with so many of humankind’s biggest problems, the answer might just be fungi. Mushrooms like lion’s mane, reishi and cordyceps are already darlings in the wellness space (ahem, MUD\WTR), and psilocybin is stealing the spotlight as a mental health therapy. But, beyond those better-known applications, mushrooms may also be the salve for other issues, like environmental dilemmas.
Here are a few ways that humans are creating innovative solutions to pollution problems and replacing unsustainable products with those made from mushrooms.
1. Compostable Packaging
Styrofoam is one of those materials that gets smaller and smaller but never disappears, yet humanity produces about three million tons of the material each year for use as packaging material and coffee cups, among its many uses. Companies such as New York-based Ecovative have developed a replicable process for turning a combinations of mycelium and hemp into sustainable, customizable, compostable and all-around environmentally friendly packaging, called MycoComposite, which is just one of the many ways the company is pioneering the mushroom materials industry.
2. Mushroom Leather
For those vegans that still secretly yearn to hone the aesthetic appeal of a black leather jacket or suede handbag, there’s an elegant solution, and, of course, it’s made of mushrooms. Ecovative has developed a leather-like mushroom-made material they’ve dubbed “mycelium hides,” which are tear-resistant, highly tensile and look just like the real thing, but they're not the only name in the game. Bolt Threads has developed a process for vertically farming their own mushroom leather called Mylo, which is used by companies like Adidas and Lululemon, among others.
3. Pollution Solutions
Inspired by the documentary Fantastic Fungi, a design student at Brunel University in London named Thomas Sault designed hexagonal tiles stuffed with sawdust and mushroom spores that soak up carbon and other air pollution from automobiles that not only degrade the environment but also exacerbate skin conditions and can cause cancer. These “myco-hex” tiles form a honeycomb like design on walls and can be mounted on brick or billboards, and may be coming to a neighborhood near you.
4. Building Materials
Also spawned at Brunel University, a sausage-like building material made from mushrooms was developed by a student to build structures that are not only sturdy and pleasing to the eye, but can also grow edible mushrooms. The process involves mycelium, cardboard and a cotton tube, and can be used to create innumerable shapes for purposes only limited by the imagination. The man behind the sausages, Aleksi Vesaluoma, moved on from the university to help form the Caracara Collective and the design collective Mandin, which produced an art piece called “the Living Man,” an 11-foot-tall human head made of mycelium.
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