How do you say “fungi” in Swedish?
As part of an ongoing effort to reduce its carbon footprint, Swedish flat-pack furniture purveyor Ikea is reportedly exploring alternatives to polystyrene packaging foam. Specifically, Ikea is considering using a fully biodegradable packaging grown organically from mycelium, a natural part of the mushroom plant.
Mycelium is the name of the specific roots of the fungus that allow it to grow as a system of branched fibers out of the soil where it is planted. If the mycelium is encouraged to grow around clean agricultural waste (like corn stalks), the fibers bind to each other and to the waste product in order to create a solid shape. Drying the fungus stops further growth and the spread of spoils, so the packaging can be used as a finished, safe product instead of a hungry biohazard. And because the growth process can be guided and controlled, mycelium packaging can be completely customized to any shape or design.
Ikea is already in conversations with Ecovative, the New York-based firm that invented its own Mushroom Packaging in 2006 and already manufactures it for big name customers like Dell. Mushroom packaging grown from mycelium is completely biodegradable in a compost system or even in a garden or backyard. Compared to the thousands of years it takes for polystyrene to decompose in landfills, eco-friendly decomposition is a big benefit of mushroom packaging.
Environmentalists hope that the positive publicity Ikea gets from making a move towards green packaging will be enough to justify the high costs of many eco-friendly trash disposal solutions. Ikea has already announced many steps they will take in an effort to be more environmentally responsible, including serving vegetarian meatballs in addition to their classic Swedish style because of the dangerous greenhouse gas emissions from meat processing. Despite the fact that Ikea hasn’t officially announced they’ll switch to Mushroom Packaging anytime soon, making the change will definitely help boost their commitment to environmentalism.