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What is mushroom packaging, what does it replace and why should I use it?

In the quest to find sustainable, plastic-free packaging alternatives, mushrooms have emerged as one of the most interesting and natural solutions available.

It turns out mushrooms truly are magical - but not (only) in the way you might think. And it all comes down to their roots - the mycelium.

Mycelium? What’s that?

The mushrooms many of us know are merely ‘fruit’ of a larger organism - fungi. Below the ground is where the real life of fungi takes place. Those roots, individually called hyphae, collectively known as mycelium, branch out and weave through the earth, constantly growing and searching.

An illustration of fungi and its many parts; it begins at the root system, the mycelium below ground. Above ground is the stipe, also called the stem. Towards the top of the stem is the cap, the part we associate as mushroom, beneath the cap are the gills and where the spores, microscopic reproductive cells, are stored and released when the time is right.

But mycelium is more than a root system for fungi. It’s a network, some say an intelligent one, and is now known to provide a life support system for forests (aka the ‘wood wide web’).

Despite its fine, almost ethereal appearance, mycelium is in fact incredibly strong. Its very nature is to find sources of nutrients. It makes connections with itself and other living things to share and trade those nutrients.

And as mycelium grows in an ever increasing web-like formation, filling out into the available space, it binds together whatever it’s growing in - like soil or wood chips - into a strong, more resilient structure.

Mycelium is an inherently strong organism. Like crustaceans, mycelium is made of chitin - one of the most prolific biopolymers in nature.

While chitin has a high tensile strength, it’s also lightweight and water resistant, making it an ideal alternative to synthetic polymers - the stuff plastics are made from.

Safely packaged products without the polystyrene.

Along with the era of high consumerism and global marketplaces came the need to safely transport goods without adding bulk or volume to the shipment. Expanded polystyrene or EPS provided an answer to this need.

But EPS has a lot of drawbacks. The same characteristics that make it so handy - lightweight, durable, water and moisture resistant - mean it's a menace to the natural environment.

It ‘escapes’ out of bins and waste transport, ending up in waterways, strewn across building sites and beyond. Two of the key ingredients in EPS, styrene and benzene, are toxic substances that are suspected carcinogens and neurotoxins.

EPS will degrade over time (like 500 years) but while it does, it leaches out those toxic substances into the environment. It’s possible to recycle, but it’s a costly and energy intensive process and not managed through standard recycling schemes.

Now, there’s a sustainable choice we can make: mushroom packaging.

Also light, also durable, also water resistant,it uses a mere 12% of the energy used in the production of plastic and generates 90% less in CO2 equivalent emissions.

And mushroom packaging is neither toxic to mammals or the environment. In fact, mushroom packaging is designed to go back to where it came from.

Once it’s done its job as a snug vehicle for bottles, whiteware appliances, building materials or chilled goods (to name a few), it can be broken up and added to the compost heap, the commercial composting collection or even kerbside landfill (although we’d suggest you compost it).

As it decomposes, the mushroom packaging adds nutrients like carbon, nitrogen and sulphur - all important components in an active, high quality composting system.

Biodegradable, compostable, natural. Mushroom packaging: sustainable solution.

At BioFab, we grow mycelium in hemp hurd - the woody innards of the hemp plant. Hemp is an incredible material in its own right, and it just so happens mycelium loves to grow in it.

An illustration of a cross section of the hemp stalk. There are two key parts; the outer of the stalk is called the Bast and is used to make hemp fibres. The inner is woodier, called Hurd, and is what is used to grow mycelium in to make BioFab’s mushroom packaging.

To make our mushroom packaging, we need just three simple ingredients: mycelium, a tiny amount of high protein flour and hemp hurd. That’s it. It's a sustainable product end to end.

The flour is just a starter, to get the mycelium hungry and active. We add the hungry mycelium to the hemp hurd and let nature do its thing.

Almost immediately the mycelium starts growing and sending out its hyphae through the hemp hurd, weaving and reconnecting, filling the voids and binding the hemp together. After about a week, we’ve got a solid structure that is 100% natural, 100% compostable and 100% safe to go back into the natural environment.

An animation of mycelia growing from a spore. Mycelia will always go hunting for nutrients and grows at a rapid rate.

And this is why mushroom packaging is not just an alternative, but a direct replacement for wherever expanded polystyrene is used.

Move with mushrooms

If you’re sending fragile, bulky, or chilled goods and want a solution that will do the job, but leave the right kind of lasting impression, mushroom packaging is your answer.

Talk with us today about making the switch to sustainable mushroom packaging with BioFab.

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