Packaging goes green – with mushrooms

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Mushroom packaging is a green alternative to traditional bubble wrap

Think packaging and chances are bubble wrap comes to mind.

There are other, greener alternatives on the market, including Geami, a honeycomb-looking, paper-based wrapping that’s an effective choice. But a new, more natural option has hit the market that might just capture your imagination.

Eben Bayer and Gavin McIntyre, two former mechanical engineering and design students, came up with the idea to use mushrooms as the key ingredient for cushioning fragile products for shipping. The soft packaging “blocks” are made with mycelium — the hidden “roots” of the mushroom that usually thread out beneath dirt or wood. The two enterprising men figured out how to grow those cottony filaments so that they would bind together seed husks or other agricultural byproducts into preset packaging shapes.

The two former college students and their innovative mushroom packaging

Made with 100 percent renewable material, including the parts of plants that cannot be used for food or feed and therefore have limited or no economic value, a blend of agricultural by-products is inoculated with mycelium. Then this “brew” simply grows indoors in about a week without any need for light, watering or petrochemical inputs. Then it’s dehydrated and heat treated to kill any possible spores, eliminating possible allergens.

Their 5-year-old company, Ecovative Design, is growing into the very lucrative market for eco-friendly alternatives to plastic foams and pellets. They’ve already expanded their product offering and have more than doubled their production space. The company recently announced a deal with Sealed Air Corp., the packaging giant known for Bubble Wrap.

“We want to be the Dow or DuPont of this century,” Bayer said.

To date, his company and its 42 employees has attracted more than $10 million in grants and equity investment, as well as some big-name clients.  Oliver Campbell, Director of procurement for Dell, said his company has a pilot program using the Ecovative product instead of polyethylene foam for shipping a high-end server.

“To cushion $25,000 worth of servers with mushrooms, that’s kind of a radical thought,” Campbell said.

Another practical example of Ecovative's mushroom packaging

Another high-profile client is Crate and Barrel, who contracted with Ecovative to help reduce its packaging and cut reliance on expanded polystyrene. The home-and-furnishings company has a pilot program using the mushroom product as corner blocks for a large room divider with shelves.

Although Ecovative’s products cost slightly more than expanded polystyrene, Campbell called this a negligible difference and said the price will decrease as production grows. Both companies executives stressed the product’s environmental value.

Unlike Bubble Wrap, which is made with toxic chemicals and breaks down slowly, Ecovative’s product breaks down in six to nine months and is OK to throw on a compost pile.

it’s completely biodegradable,” said Anne Johnson, director of the Sustainable Packaging Coalition, which advocates for environmental packaging.

It definitely adds a unique quality to packaging and shipping. After all, you don’t find rolls of this stacked in your garage just waiting to be used. But with the growing popularity and demand for green options, this product could definitely grab a large share of the market.

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One Response

  1. This is a really interesting invention. It’s great to see alternatives to bubble wrap and styrofoam. Styrofoam is very common in electronics packaging.

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