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Using Mushrooms to Grow Packages

Mushroom packaging - it looks like Styrofoam but is made of fungus roots and residues from farming.  A 100% biodegradable and renewable material that can be ‘up-cycled’ directly back to nature by providing agricultural waste with home composting.

Packaging, especially food packaging is common place and necessary as it does serve an important function of protecting and maintaining the value of the product as well as playing an important role in its distribution. But packaging technology must not only play these important functions, it must keep an eye on energy and material costs and be mindful of any environmental impact such as pollution and disposal of municipal solid waste that is, aim to be sustainable.

The truth of the matter is that currently, 39% of all plastics produced are for packaging.  One of the worst culprits is plastic food packaging and cutlery. These single use items lines the beaches and cover the ocean's surface. Most cannot be recycled due to the type of plastic they are made out of. Melinda Watson, the founder of Raw Foundation  said, “A staggering 72% of plastic packaging is not recovered at all: 40% is ladled, and 32% leaks out the collection system.”

However, simply removing plastic from food packaging is not as sustainable as one might think. Plastic packaging has its uses as it is more flexible and lighter than alternatives such as glass and card. This reduces transportation costs and the carbon emissions that come with them. Furthermore, it has the potential to preserve food and prevent its wastage. More than 50% of food waste takes place in households and nearly 20% is wasted during processing.

Plastic packaging may be a necessary evil to reduce this high level of waste in both areas. But with the plastic pollution escalating there is increasing interest and demand for sustainable packaging.  We need to think of ways of not only reducing and reusing plastics wherever possible, but also of sourcing for more renewable materials for our packaging.

Packaging technology has come a long way in using plant-based materials. One of the latest works is a substance called MycoComposite, a mushroom base material production by Ecovative mycelium technology design of technology in 2010. Completely natural and biodegradable, it can grow in a controlled environment in a week and takes 30 days to decompose; and if kept dry, can be reused. Using mushrooms inherent growth power, the manufacturing process, packaging can be manufactured with minimal energy use. The manufacturing process begins by mixing fungus sprouts, or mycelia, with seedlings or other residues from agriculture. Mycelet consists of a network of wire-like cells that act as a natural adhesive. Without the need for light, water or chemical additives, the mycelium grows by and around the residues to the desired packaging form. After one week, growth is stopped by a drying and heat treatment process. The result is a fully natural composite material that has similar material properties like synthetic foam plastics such as Styrofoam, without the inherent toxicity of Styrofoam to man and the planet. MycoComposite is also proven to have polystyrene insulation and fire resistance properties.

However, ‘the mushroom’ only got the spotlight when the furniture giant Ikea announced that it will replace Styrofoam packaging with MycoComposite for all its products.

Element Packaging Ltd offers food packaging made from plant-based materials without compromising strength and durability. Element is a uniquely compostable brand which has both character and conscience, and in fashionable and vibrant urban colours. 

Element packaging offers a full range of products that are home compostable, compostable and biodegradable and made from bagasse, cornstarch, paper, card, PLA, bamboo fiber and wood. The home compostable range has a lining that can degrade in 30 degrees celcius, thus making it home compostable and it does not need to go into an industrial composting facility.  

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