Community, Diversity, Sustainability and other Overused Words

IKEA Looks at Mushroom-Based Packaging

Biodegradable fungus foam could replace polystyrene

The flat-pack furniture giant IKEA has announced a move to a USA-made eco-friendly mycelium packaging to replace polystyrene.

"We are looking for innovative alternatives to materials, such as replacing our polystyrene packaging with mycelium - fungi packaging," Joanna Yarrow told the Telegraph. Yarrow is the head of sustainability for IKEA in the UK.

Mycelium is the part of a fungus that grows in branched fibers to attach to the soil or other host, essentially the roots of the fungus.

New York firm Ecovative has developed a sturdy and lightweight product, Mushroom Packaging, by taking advantage of the binding powers of mycelium.

The new product has a number of benefits over traditional packaging:

1. It is naturally fire resistant

2. It can be grown into any shape

3. It is no more expensive than other packaging on the market

4. It has no dangerous chemicals or additives

5. It does not contain any petroleum products

6. After use, it can be crumbled and put into any garden as a healthy fertilizer

The Mushroom Packaging is made by mixing the mycelium spores into ground agricultural waste, such as corn stalks or husks. The mixture is then poured into a pre-formed mold, watered, and allowed to grow for 2 – 4 days. When the fungal roots have created a tight, solid mass, it is removed from the mold and dried to prevent further growth.

While polystyrene packaging is difficult to recycle, causing most of it to end up in landfills, the Mushroom Packaging will decompose quickly when exposed to moisture and natural organisms.

The IKEA chain has over 300 stores world-wide, and it is one of the fastest growing companies within this decade. Their decision to replace polystyrene with the compostable packaging could help set an industry standard for sustainability.

"IKEA has committed to take a lead in reducing its use of fossil –based materials while increasing its use of renewable and recycled materials," a company spokesman said.

IKEA is still in negotiations with Ecovative, but one company already using the product is computer giant Dell, which uses it to cushion large computer servers in transit.

The US tends to lag behind other countries in supporting "green" technology, but companies like Ecovative can lead the way, developing useful and practical products and creating jobs in communities where traditional factory employment may no longer be available.

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