Polystyrene is out and mushrooms are in. IKEA recently announced they will be moving away from the foam and are looking at a more sustainable option made from mushroom fibers. Designed by New York company Ecovative, Mushroom® Packaging is made using mycelium, which functions similar to the roots of a plant. Mycelium fastens the fungus to the ground and absorbs nutrients.
Ecovative grows the packaging using agricultural waste like corn husks. The waste is cleaned and then combined with mycelium which grows around the waste as it sends out fibers to digest it. The mass is then broken up again and the little pieces of waste covered with mycelium are put into molds. The mycelium continues to grow until the mold is filled. The shape that emerges is hardened and used as packaging.
IKEA’s head of sustainability in the UK, Joanna Yarrow said, “A lot of products come in polystyrene, traditionally, which can’t be – or is very difficult to – recycle. The great thing about mycelium is you can grow it into a mold that then fits exactly. You can create bespoke packaging.”
It takes thousands of years for polystyrene to decompose. In contrasts, Mushroom® Packaging breaks down after just a few weeks in the back yard.
Ecovative explains that Mushroom® Packaging decomposes similar to how a wood table would. While in your home, a wood table will be sturdy and won’t break down. But leave the table outside, or break it into wood chips, and it will eventually decompose. In an IKEA warehouse, mycelium will retain its shape, but put it outside and the living organisms in dirt will break it down.
While IKEA has not yet confirmed it will be working with Ecovative, they have committed to building a more sustainable company.
“IKEA wants to have a positive impact on people and planet, which includes taking a lead in turning waste into resources, developing reverse material flows for waste materials, and ensuring key parts of our range are easily recycled,” said a spokesperson. “IKEA has committed to take a lead in reducing its use of fossil-based materials while increasing its use of renewable and recycled materials.”
Dell has already adopted Mushroom® Packaging to ship large server parts. Ecovative has proved its packaging is durable and will protect the parts even in packages weighing around 200 pounds.