Did you know there’s a mushroom which consumes plastic? Whereas organizations such as The Ocean Cleanup are dedicated to cleaning plastic out of oceans and rivers, nature has proven to us there are other ways to be rid of plastic pollution.
It’s called the Pestalotiopsis microspore. It is a rare fungus which was discovered several years ago, inside the Amazonian rainforests of Ecuador. It has the ability to consume polyurethane, the essential ingredient in plastic products, and convert it into organic matter.
Even better is that Pestalotiopsis microspore does not need oxygen to survive. This would make it perfect for feeding on and clearing up landfills.
What’s even better still is that this fungus can fulfill more than one purpose. Designers Katharina Unger and Julia Kaisinger, along with scientists at Utrecht University, have modified the original Pestalotiopsis microspore to create something entirely new.
Known as the Fungi Mutarium, this prototype creates a unique, edible fungal food product. It uses mushroom-esque pods of Ajar, which is a seaweed-based gelatin, and the pods act as a nutrient base for the fungus. The pods are then filled with plastic and covered up. The fungus eventually devours the plastic, along with other sugars and starches, leaving behind a mushroom-like cup. The cup can either be filled with other food, or eaten by itself. The whole process, from beginning to end, takes several months.
But how do these Ajar pods taste? According to Katharina Unger, it depends on the strain of fungus, but it often has a sweet, licorice-like flavour. Having watched a video demonstration of how it works, that makes me want to give Fungi Mutarium a try. They look tasty.
The project was developed not only to help dispose of plastic waste, but also to revolutionize global food production. Given the sheer number of people around the world who go hungry every night, a widespread food source that converts trash into something edible would indisputably be of great value.
Katharina Unger has made another fantastic discovery. It turns out there’s multiple species of mushrooms that will consume plastic, some of them much more common than the Pestalotiopsis microspore. Among these is the oyster mushroom, which too is edible.
Despite the overall success so far, there are other hurdles still to overcome. Actually convincing people to eat these unusual mushrooms may be a challenge all of its own. There are also more studies which need to be conducted to determine if the mushrooms really are safe to eat.
Regardless, there will be many benefits to reap if it does take off. Plastic consumption aside, these mushrooms can also remove pollutants from soil, as well as converting waste into biofuels, and they can even be used for furniture and building materials! Even if the mushroom is not used for any of these, it is still far more biodegradable than plastic, which takes hundreds of years to decompose on its own.
The future of mushrooms may hold a lot of promise. It just goes to show that effective solutions will often show up in unexpected ways.