Season 3, Post 28: The magic of mushrooms
Mycelium-tech could be the next big thing. You might think you are familiar with the humble mushroom. Fried, they work well as a breakfast option, for example. Alternatively, they could perhaps be chopped into a pasta dish or salad. However, when you buy mushrooms in your local store or – even better – see them sprouting in the woods, this is just a very small part of the story. Down below, in the earth, is where the real excitement happens. The mycelium are the effective roots of the mushrooms; an underground network or web, which not only carries essential nutrients but – when reconfigured – could serve as a plastic substitute.
We have written regularly about the darker side of plastic. Sure, it’s been a marvellous invention, but its practicality is also its curse. Since it is generally cheaper to make new plastic than to recycle old, over 90% of all plastic produced is not recycled. Instead, it often finds its way into oceans and hence eventually also into the food we eat. Some studies suggest that humans consume an average of five micrograms of plastic each day.
Mycelium may provide a good – and cheap, given its abundance – solution to the problem. Take any form of agricultural waste, bind it with mycelium fibres and then preserve it in an appropriate temperature and humidity-controlled environment, and you have mycelium foam. To produce this substitute material uses about 12% of the energy compared to plastic production and generates 90% lower levels of carbon dioxide emissions. Mycelium foam is also fully biodegradable, returning to its original matter within 40 days.
Many businesses have already begun to grasp the possibilities offered by mushrooms. Beyond potential efficiency gains and novelty benefits, manipulating mycelium can clearly provide a boost for one’s environmental credentials. Clothing brands including Adidas (check the Stan Smith mylo trainer), Kering and Lululemon have launched products containing mushroom-based substances. IKEA has started using mycelium foam as a substitute for polystyrene packaging around some of its products. Bans on Styrofoam food containers in some US states may also accelerate the deployment of mycelium at quick service restaurant chains and the like. Elsewhere, several players in the building industry are exploring the possibility of mycelium as a potential insulation material. This may just be the beginning. Next time you see a mushroom, offer it your thanks – its mycelium is helping to change the world.
The inspiration for this week’s Blog and the statistics cited above came from watching this short video on YouTube.
15 July 2021
The above does not constitute investment advice and is the sole opinion of the author at the time of publication. Past performance is no guide to future performance and the value of investments and income from them can fall as well as rise.
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