Most of the retail products we buy on a daily basis come in a box with protective packaging, to improve a product’s shelf life and handling convenience.
This is needed and beneficial for both, the seller and the customer, but a problem arises because about 50% of all packaging materials are plastic, due to its lightweight and durable properties.
Our environment suffers a lot from the use of polystyrene, and a fact-sheet provided by Harvard reveals that polystyrene, which is made from petroleum, a non-sustainable, non-renewable, heavily polluting and fast-disappearing commodity, is not biodegradable, so it takes thousands to years to break down.
Yet, people do not give up on its use, and according to the French ministry of ecology, we toss over 14 million tons of the stuff into landfills annually. It is estimated that by 2050, 99% of birds on this planet will have plastic in their guts.
Styrofoam causes pollution during its production from petroleum, and it has disastrous effects on the organisms that ingest it. The scariest part is, according to the Ashland Food Cooperative, packaging forms about one-third of the municipal waste in the United States.
Fortunately, people are becoming aware of plastic’s drawbacks, so many companies are seeking for “green” packaging material alternatives to plastic.
Mushroom-based packaging, on the other hand, uses only 12% of the energy used in plastic production and it produces 90% fewer carbon emissions than produced during plastic manufacture.
Therefore, non-petroleum based packaging can help reduce human reliance on fossil fuels, decrease carbon emissions into the atmosphere, counter the hazardous impact of plastic wastes, and protect the biodiversity of our earth.
The Swedish company IKEA agrees that we all need to do something to fight styrofoam pollution, so it is looking to use the biodegradable mycelium “fungi packaging” to reduce waste and increase recycling.
Mycelium is the part of a fungus that acts as its roots, and it grows in a mass of branched fibers, attaching itself to the soil or whatever surface it is growing on.
The alternative Styrofoam is an eco-friendly packaging, developed by the American company Ecovative Design, and the so-called Mushroom Packaging is manufactured in Troy, New York.
Using their Mycelium Foundry, the company is collaborating with companies to create alternative meat products, biodegradable packaging materials, animal-free leather and more.
Ecovative Design is already selling it to large companies, such as Dell, which uses it to cushion large computer servers.
It is created by letting the mycelium grow around clean agricultural waste, like corn stalks or husks. Within a few days, the fungus fibers bind the waste together, getting a solid shape, which is then dried to prevent its growth and production of mushrooms or spores.
According to Joanna Yarrow, head of sustainability for IKEA in the U.K., the furniture retailer intends to introduce the mycelium packaging as numerous products that traditionally come in polystyrene cannot be recycled with ease or at all. On the other hand, this packaging can be disposed of in the garden, and it will biodegrade within weeks.
Joanna adds that it is even better than mycelium can be grown into a mould that then fits exactly. So, one can create bespoke packaging.
In comparison to polystyrene, mushroom-based packaging uses only 12% of the energy used in plastic production and it produces 90% fewer carbon emissions.
This means that the non-petroleum based packaging can reduce human reliance on fossil fuels, prevent the hazardous impact of plastic wastes, decrease carbon emissions into the atmosphere, and protect the biodiversity of the earth.
Additionally, Joanna stated this was the retailer’s “small yet significant step towards reducing waste and conserving ecological balance.”
An IKEA spokesman confirmed that the company was looking forward to working with Ecovative, claiming that IKEA always looks for new and innovative processes and sustainable materials that can contribute to their commitment.
This is not the first time IKEA is trying to turn to eco-friendly alternatives. It has already launched a vegetarian substitute for meatballs, instead of the Swedish dish served in its cafes.
A spokesman for the retailer added that they want to have a positive impact on people and planet. This means that it often takes a lead in turning waste into resources, developing reverse material flows for waste materials and ensuring key parts of their range are easily recycled.
IKEA was reported to have committed to take a lead in decreasing its use of fossil-based materials while increasing its use of renewable and recycled materials.