Eben Bayer and Gavin McIntyre, co-founders of Ecovative, want the world of material packaging to enter “The Mushroom Age” and they have the approval of the Buckminster Fuller Institute. Founded in 2009, the upstate New York company has developed biocompatible, strong, lightweight, and fireproof fungi-based packaging as a sustainable replacement for polystyrene foam, widely used but made of environmentally harmful plastics. In August, AN reported Ecovative’s Mushroom Packaging project as a semi-finalist in the 2013 Buckminster Fuller Institute Challenge. This week, BFI awarded the entry first place in its $100,000 competition for socially responsive design.
Combining agricultural waste and fungi tissue into a “mushroom material,” Bayer and McIntyre discovered that they could grow the solution into the shape of any mold, dry it, and create a strong solid with characteristics similar to Styrofoam. But, unlike Styrofoam whose production releases toxic substances, packaging made of mushrooms is net-positive and creates a closed loop production system. It is also cost-competitive. Bayer says that Evocative hopes its natural and ecologically friendly mushroom packaging will “completely displace petroleum-based packaging in the market.”
He continues, “We’ve taken the best of agricultural mushroom technology, living systems technology, and paired it with serious, logical, engineer-type thinking about how we use these living systems. And then come up with a really innovative product.”
After discovering the unique bonding ability of mushroom mycelium, fungi tissue with branch-like growing fibers, Ecovative has already begun expanding its use beyond packaging and into material for inexpensive housing, furniture, surfboards, and footwear.
In a statement announcing Ecovative as their 2013 Challenge winner, BFI praised the initiative as a “ground-breaking enterprise” and “an extraordinary example” of “comprehensive, anticipatory, ecologically responsible, feasible, replicable, and verifiable” design for the improvement of a pressing human problem.