The cat’s out of the bag, by now the vast majority of us are aware that Styrofoam is bad for our environment as it doesn’t decompose and, in its production process, leaches toxic chemicals into our environment. Yet, despite this awareness, it is still being used on a massive scale to package anything from your new flat screen TV to your late night sushi rolls. As consumers we can choose to either support the companies that are contributing to the waste epidemic on our planet — or not.
Thankfully, as awareness grows, some large corporations like furniture giant IKEA are leading the way and choosing more sustainable and harmonious products. No doubt these sustainable options will appeal more to the conscious consumer and even though we can’t be clear as to whether or not these decisions are being made because of a general concern for our environment or because of growing consumer awareness, it doesn’t really matter because, regardless of the why, things are shifting for the better.
Ikea has announced that they will be looking to switch all of their packaging materials from Styrofoam to a new substance called MycoComposite, which is made out of mushrooms and other organic materials. This material is entirely natural and compostable; it grows within a week and will decompose within 30 days. It can also be reused if it is kept dry.
This was a product we wrote about 7 years ago! And here it is today, finally getting the attention it deserves.
The process to create this packaging material is quite simple really–from Intelligent Living:
- Agricultural byproducts such as hemp, husk, oat hulls, and cotton burrs are pressed into the desired shape that can fit around items as packaging.
- Then, it is seeded with mushroom spores that sprout mycelium (a root structure) after a few days.
- The mycelium threads rapidly through the structure and binds it together to form a shock-resistant and durable packaging material.
- The last step is to heat-treat the material to kill spores in order to arrest further growth of the fungus.
Mushroom-based packaging uses only about 12% of the energy that is used in plastic production and produces 90% fewer carbon emissions than plastic/Styrofoam production. Non-petroleum-based packaging is just another step towards ending our reliance on fossil fuels; there are plenty of alternative options available, we just need to look. In some cases we simply need to put on our thinking caps, we are a creative, problem-solving species and no doubt there are much more harmonious alternatives for many of our current processes.
The SWOT Analysis below conveys the advantage that Mushroom based materials has over plastic.
- Easily grown from agricultural waste products which are plentiful
- Strong, lightweight, mouldable
- Produced using less energy
- No waste or pollution from the process itself
- No health risks
- Takes longer to produce than most plastics
- Less variability and range of products can be produced
- Not as fire resistant/good as Styrofoam
- Replace plastic products as a socially and environmentally safe alternative
- Research is ongoing to improve and create more products
- Community development through GIY initiatives
- Compete against already strongly established plastic dependence (suppliers, manufactures, buyers)
- Opposition to fungus grown product, misinformed views
One Small Step Towards Massive Change
Just think for a moment, not even just about the hundreds of IKEA stores worldwide, but consider all the big box retailers like Amazon and ALL OF THE STYROFOAM packaging that is being used and where all of that ends up. The fact that technology even exists for us to use a compostable alternative should leave the other substances completely behind. Because why would we continue using materials that are harmful for our planet if working alternatives already exist? That’s a whole other topic, and I’m sure you already know all about the why.
IKEA’s Head of Sustainability, Joanna Yarrow, said this was the retailer’s “small yet significant step towards reducing waste and conserving ecological balance.”
Another Ikea spokesperson told The Telegraph, “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. IKEA has committed to take a lead in reducing its use of fossil-based materials while increasing its use of renewable and recycled materials.”
Yes, it may be a small step, but just think of how big this step really is, and we can only hope that other retailers will follow in the footsteps of IKEA. Maybe it goes without saying, but we do have a say in the matter. If other retailers aren’t willing to give up their use of Styrofoam, then we can choose to shop elsewhere, and if enough people do the same, then these other retailers will have no choice but to change their ways. This is why raising awareness is so important.