Known for its toxic impact on nature, plastic is one of the biggest environmental concerns we face today. One issue is that plastic forms so many of the containers and packaging used for retail products. Nearly half of all such packaging is plastic, in fact. While plastic does have a lot of convenient uses in that regard, it is a shame that is it so destructive to nature.
Conversely, it is a good thing that mushrooms have so many environmental benefits, with more being uncovered all the time. Not long ago, scientists discovered a mushroom called the Pestalotiopsis microspore, which is able to digest plastic and convert it into a fungal-based food product for people to eat.
As it happens, mushrooms have proven to be useful once again. This time around, they have been able to act as a viable alternative to environmentally-unfriendly containers such as the ones made out of plastic or Styrofoam. These mushroom containers are made out of fungal roots and farming residues. At the start of the manufacturing process, fungus sprouts (also known as mycelium) are mixed in with seedlings and other agricultural residues. With a network of wire-like cells, it acts as a natural adhesive.
Once the mushroom containers are no longer needed, they can be used for compost, and are otherwise fully biodegradable. The containers can decompose into nature within a timespan of one month, and are also completely harmless to any living creatures who happen to ingest them. Among other benefits, the containers also use only 12% of the energy used in plastic production, and they produce 90% less carbon emissions than plastic manufacture.
IKEA, a company that sells furniture, kitchen appliances, and home accessories, began to make use of these mushroom-based containers over the summer of 2019, even going far enough to announce that MycoComposite packaging would be replacing Styrofoam for all of the company’s products. Joanna Yarrow, IKEA’s Head of Sustainability, stated that this was, “[a] small yet significant step towards reducing waste and conserving ecological balance.”
There are still many people to this day who are unaware of how damaging plastic and Styrofoam are. Styrofoam is made from polystyrene, a petroleum-based plastic, which causes pollution by emitting greenhouse gases. It is also very harmful to any creatures who end up consuming the Styrofoam. Cows and birds especially are at high risk for ingesting it, and it is believed that by 2050, 99% of birds will have plastic inside of them. It can also be harmful to people as well. For one thing, chemicals from Styrofoam containers can contaminate the food or drinks inside, which is detrimental to human health.
All we can do for now is continue to spread awareness, and to hope that these new methods of environmentally-safe packaging will further catch on. IKEA’s new approach and their willingness to alter their production methods is promising, and it inspires faith that others will learn to do the same.