By Kieran Maloney
Recycling is so much more than just throwing an empty water bottle into a green bin. For me, it’s about giving recyclables a second life to reduce waste globally, starting by going through day to day things we use that are typically disposable (shopping bags, water bottles, food containers, etc..) and replacing them with reusable substitutes. The need for alternatives is essential due to the amount of waste being produced. Recycle Across America found that, “despite only representing 5% of the world population, the U.S. generates more waste than any other country in the world.”
In the spirit of saving the environment, scientists across the globe have been producing amazing alternatives for daily use. The functional and life saving inventions are what could lead our generation to a better future and leaving the earth in better condition than we found it. Groundbreaking work is being done with eco-friendly packaging material using fungus.
UPS and FedEx average 19.4 million packages per day in the United States.
Not to mention other postal services like USPS and Amazon, packaging materials of plastic, paper, and styrofoam are in a constant state of transportation all around us. Paper takes 1 month to decompose, plastic and styrofoam can take 500 years – forever to biodegrade. Because they’re polystyrene-based petroleum products, they are unsafe for the ozone. This article on Live Science explains the deep chemistry, but to break it down, propylene creates very strong bonds that nature isn’t familiar with. The energy it takes to overcome the bonds is beyond nature’s capacity. Making the plastic with a chemical makeup that is biodegradable is not functional enough for its common uses.
Production of these fungi alternatives starts with a growing mycelium, tissues are transferred into a preferred material and set aside briefly to allow cultivation. From there the material is molded to the specified design. This revolutionary product uses a 3-D printer to print living cells to conform to specific shipping needs. Rubber-like, plastic-like or more flexible textures can be achieved by the changing the environmental conditions of the fungi. Not only can different growing conditions affect the end products, different species can too. This material is able to pack anything plastic and styrofoam can (technology, furniture, bottles, etc) without the waste. Although fungus is a living organism related to animals, this packaging will only decompose if it interacts with another living organism, making it at home compostable! Many tests have been done to ensure the effectiveness of this product and has been proven successful.
This packaging has hit the market and is said to be picked up by major companies like Ikea, Dell, and others. Ecovativedesign works with retailers and individuals to provide this sustainable solution across the globe. But packaging is just the beginning; new designs in furniture and clothing are already put into motion around the world. With cooperation we can take an extra step toward more sustainable packaging and living.