Who wouldn’t be mesmerized by the beautiful mycelium creations that have been appearing recently? Mycelium is the underground root structure of mushrooms, and pioneers in bio design are growing them into fantastical chairs, or into bricks to shape houses. One of the latest creations is Hy-Fi, the organic mushroom-brick tower which opened at MoMA’s PS1 in New York last June. The beauty of the designs, and the potential of this material as an alternative to polluting plastics like styrofoam are both equally exciting.
The potential of fungi has been pointed out many times before, for example by leading mycologist Paul Stamets sharing how fungi have been used to remove toxins from the soil, control termite pests, and much more.The most pressing problem fungi can help us tackling though, is the problem of plastic waste.
Recap; the Global Problem of Plastic Waste
Over the last ten years we have produced more plastic than during the whole of the last century. Almost half of the plastic we use is used just once and is then thrown away. Millions of tons of plastic have entered the oceans, and concentrates in five enormous gyres. In these gyres there is on average 6x more plastic than zooplankton by dry weight and many toxic chemicals are increased in concentration and accumulated in our food chain. Just a few of the sad facts about our plastic problems (Ocean Cleanup project and 5 Gyres).
Mycelium as a 100% Degradable Plastic Replacement
New York based Ecovative has come a long way fine-tuning the use of mycelium as a replacement for petroleum based plastic packaging. Mycelium has proven particularly useful as a styrofoam replacement, a type of plastic used for packaging, coffee cups and table tops. In the USA, styrofoam occupies 25% of the landfill, Eben Bayer from Ecovative shares with us in his TED talk.
Founded by before mentioned Eben Bayer and Gavin McIntyre, the material science company Ecovative can produce the material with flame retardant, water resistant and insulating properties. The mycelia are grown with agricultural by-products like corn stalks and seed husks into a mold in about 5 days, dried in an oven and voila! The material will be strong and sturdy, and at the end of it’s lifecycle it will serve as food for your garden. That’s pretty much closing the loop. Ecovative now delivers packaging for big brands such as such as Dell, Steelcase and Crate & Barrel.
Grow It Yourself
As of recent, Ecovative is offering their mycelium materials in a Grow It Yourself toolkit, which has already lead to some awe inspiring designs. Other then the Hy-Fi mushroom brick tower at MoMA’s PS1, designer Danielle Trofe has created stylish lampshades and plant holders, and David Purser and Daniel Del Toro of Surf Organic are growing an ocean-friendly surfboard out of the material, called “El Portobello”.
Mycelium Research and Design in the Netherlands
In Amsterdam, Mediamatic the institute for art and new technology, has kicked off a research program in 2014, together with Mediamatic, Universiteit Utrecht en Officina Corpuscoli. Researchers, designers and artists are involved to develop the use of mycelium as a plastic replacement. They also offer a wealth of knowledge and workshops around mushrooms and mycelium, and how to grow your own.