A green alternative to styrofoam: fungi


A green alternative to styrofoam: fungi Styrofoam has enjoyed a long product lifecycle serving as a mainstream packaging cushion and an effective insulator. It’s crinkly white, stretched surface has an ugly underbelly though. Styrofoam contains a high percentage of carbon and it doesn’t biodegrade quickly.

Solving that problem is how newly founded company Ecovative Design hopes to make its fortune, by manufacturing insulation that’s green, cheap and biodegradable. The key ingredients? Fungus and cellulose.

Ecovative Design collects agricultural waste from local companies created from crops like buckwheat, rice and cottonseed according to the New York Times. A specific breed of fungus is then introduced to the mixture, which feeds on the cellulose abundant on the inner walls of plant cells.

Fungus expert Jeff Stone says “Fungi require a source of carbon and energy like we do. In this case, what they are consuming is cellulose from plant walls, and rice hulls are predominantly cellulose.”

Often green products carry a price premium for the “extra effort” it takes to manufacture using sustainable processes. Ecovative Design claims its Acorn and Greensulate products are actually cheaper than styrofoam. That’s because the company pulls raw materials from local companies and grows its own products in dark rooms held at room temperatures.

The marketing potential for a product like Acorn is compelling because it has three major advantages: price, sustainable, and disposable. Because it’s so new, there isn’t much information available on the quality of Acorn, though Ecovative Design will certainly be focused on that too. After all, a container that does everything BUT keep its contents safe is useless.

“Acorn is meant to be thrown away. Throw it in the trash or your garden as a fertilizer. The choice is yours you can feel great about either one.”

Those are attention-grabbing words for cultures accustomed to disposable products but in search of ways to sustain their environments. It’s a great example of a company capitalizing on existing waste streams.