A New Appreciation for the Fungus Among Us

By Elizabeth Myer

I’m a vegetarian, which means people are often shocked to learn that in addition to my choice to exclude meat from my diet, I also hate mushrooms. I really don’t consider myself a picky person when it comes to food, but man, something about the texture of mushrooms grosses me out! However, I recently came across a story about a small upstate company called Ecovative Design that has already received heaps of attention from EPA – and get this: their business is powered by mushrooms!

Ecovative co-founders Eben Bayer and Gavin McIntyre created a completely compostable Styrofoam substitute using a technology that they developed during their senior year at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute. Just last June, the pair launched a packaging product called EcoCradle, which is made from the mushrooms “roots”, called mycélium. To make the biodegradable (and edible!) packaging, the mushrooms are given agricultural wastes (like seed husks) which they digest to transform into a white material that is placed into molds. There, the shape forms and dries within five days, by which point the mushroom is no longer a live material. With significant investments federal government agencies including the EPA, Ecovative Design has seen tremendous expansion since its inception. Bayer and McIntyre are successfully challenging the paradigm on how materials are manufactured and used; and what an example they have set! These guys have convinced me that for the first time in 24 years, I can get on board with the mushroom craze. And really, wouldn’t it be great if we could help them to create a world without waste?