NY company growing mushrooms as packing material

By Michael Hill

Associated Press

Published: Thursday, March 8 2012 12:00 a.m. MST

Both executives stressed the product's environmental value.

While expanded polystyrene protects everything from dinner plates to flat-screen TVs, it has fallen out of favor with environmentally conscious consumers because it's made with toxic chemicals and breaks down slowly.

In contrast, Ecovative's product breaks down in six to nine months and is OK to throw on a compost pile.

"It's very, very unique, very novel. And the really interesting aspect of is that it's completely biodegradable," said Anne Johnson, director of the Sustainable Packaging Coalition, which advocates for environmental packaging.

There are other "green" packaging alternatives such as starch-based packing peanuts made from grains. But Johnson said sustainable packaging alternatives that depend on potential food crops are likely nonstarters.

Ecovative recently announced deal with Sealed Air to accelerate production, sales and distribution, and Bayer and McIntyre are starting to branch out beyond packaging. The young visionaries — Bayer is 26, McIntyre, 27 — talk about roofing material that can repair itself and a mycelium alternative to plastic office furniture. They already have contracts to work on footwear and material for car bumpers.

"Just by changing the fungus — the raw material — and the growth condition we allot the organism, we can tune the performance," McIntyre said.

He explained that the hardness and other qualities of the molded pieces can be manipulated by altering the feedstock from, say, hemp core to cotton seed hulls, or by switching mycelium.

Essentially, if something is made of plastic, they believe there's a decent chance it can be made of mushrooms.

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