Small Business Innovation is Mushrooming

Sometimes I worry that one of the enduring manmade wonders of our time will be the Great Pacific Garbage Patch. You know the Garbage Patch – the huge concentration of marine debris (mostly plastics) floating in the Pacific Ocean. It may still be there centuries from now. I wonder if a thousand years from now, tourists will visit the Garbage Patch the way we do the Roman Coliseum or the Pyramids. They’ll take pictures and stand there with their mouths agape wondering “how could they let this happen?”

Personally, I’m hopeful we can reduce the “greatness” of the garbage patch – and solve many of our other waste disposal problems – by reducing packaging or at least making it more sustainable.

Wine packaging

Wine packaging made from mushroom mycelium by Ecovative Design

One of the most interesting breakthroughs I’ve seen to rethink the way we produce packaging materials is taking place in Green Island, New York. A company called Ecovative Design is growing – that’s right, GROWING – packaging materials from mushroom mycelium. The mushroom mycelium – kind of like its roots – are put in molds and shaped into packaging for wine bottles, computer parts, furniture, and more. These products – which can replace polystyrene foam – are completely compostable, and won’t be floating in the Pacific Ocean centuries from now.

Styrene – the building block of polystyrene foam – is bad for the environment, and bad for our health. And it’s still out there – while it’s been years since Big Macs were sold in polystyrene clamshell containers, if you buy a new laptop today, odds are it will come packed in polystyrene.

EPA Regional Administrator Judith Enck presents Ecovative Design co-founder Eben Bayer with EPA’s Environmental Quality Award at the company’s Green Island, NY facility on April 19.

Ecovative has a better idea of how to make packaging, and that idea is growing. They currently employ more than 40 people, and recently expanded their facilities. That’s not bad for a company that started laying down roots (literally) in 2007. EPA has supported Ecovative’s work with Small Business Innovation Research grants totaling $295,000.

Judith Enck is the Administrator of Region 2 of the U.S. EPA, where she directs the Agency’s operations in in New Jersey, New York, Puerto Rico, the U.S. Virgin Islands and eight federally recognized Indian Nations. Previously, she was Deputy Secretary for the Environment in the New York State Governor’s Office. Judith was raised in the Catskill Mountains and is a graduate of the College of St. Rose in Albany, New York.

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