Science Technology

New Process Allows Fungi to Turn Plastic Waste into Edible Snacks

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An Austrian design group has created an incubator that allows commonly found fungi to break down plastic waste and become edible treats that can be consumed by humans.

Plastics can take hundreds or even thousands of years to degrade. However, the method developed by Livin Studio can be completed in a couple of months.

The fungi are cultivated in small organic growth spheres made out of a seaweed-based gelatin called agar that is mixed with starch and sugar to provide a nutrient base for the fungi. The growth spheres are placed inside the incubator and filled with the fungi and plastic.

The sphere shape allows the fungus’ mycelium (a mushroom’s version of a plant root) to grow throughout the container. After a few weeks, the organic growth spheres can be extracted from the incubator and eaten.

The project selected two types of fungi for the project:

*”Scientific research has shown that fungi can degrade toxic and persistent waste materials such as plastics, converting them into edible fungal biomass. We were working with fungi named Schizophyllum Commune and Pleurotus Ostreatus. They are found throughout the world and can be seen on a wide range of timbers and many other plant-based substrates virtually anywhere in Europe, Asia, Africa, the Americas and Australia. Next to the property of digesting toxic waste materials, they are also commonly eaten.”*

The project was funded by the Bio Art and Design Award and generously supported by Utrecht University for the purpose of finding revolutionary food production technologies that can be conducted “under extreme environmental conditions.” The team will continue to work with university researchers to increase the efficiency of the process and make it faster.

Plastic accounted for 16 percent of all municipal solid waste in 2009 and each U.S. citizen contributed 63 pounds of plastic packaging every year to landfills in the United States.

The process developed by Livin Studio comes a few years after a group of Yale students discovered a fungi species in Ecuador that can digest landfill waste even in the absence of light and air, which could lead to industrial scale organic waste disposal methods.

*See video here

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“New Process Allows Fungi to Turn Plastic Waste into Edible Snacks”