Growing alternatives to petroleum-based packaging

© Ecovative

Ecovative Growing alternatives to petroleum-based packaging

Ecovative produce packaging products that are fully compostable alternatives to synthetic materials. They are made of mycelium grown in and around agriculture by-products with low economic value, acting thereby as a glue, and can take any shape needed. At the end of use, products can be composted at home.

Eben Bayer and Gavin McIntyre, the founders of Ecovative Design, found inspiration while observing mushrooms growing on wood chips and how the mycelium – the ‘roots’ of the mushrooms – bonded the wood chips together. Mycelium, a fungal network of threadlike cells, then acts like a “natural, self-assembling glue”. This enabled the team to formulate a new method to produce materials able to replace various types of products, including petroleum-based expanded plastics and particle board made using carcinogenic formaldehyde.

We’re using mushrooms to create an entirely new class of materials which perform a lot like plastic during their use but are made from crop waste and are totally compostable at the end of their lives.

- Eben Bayer, co-founder

The raw material used is agricultural feedstock. They use parts of plants that cannot be used for food or feed, therefore with low economic value. These are cleaned and inoculated with mushroom tissue. The mycelium grows in 5-7 days without needing any light or water, digesting the agricultural by-product and binding into the shape needed. At the end of the process, the material goes through a dehydration and heat treating process to stop the growth and to ensure the absence of spores or allergens.

It is different from other biopolymers since you use the whole material, giving you a very high bio efficiency

- Eben Bayer, co-founder

This minimal processing reduces the cost of the product and thus enables its economic viability. Additionally, the technique can use multiple feedstocks, thus allowing Ecovative to use locally available crops. At the end of its use, the material can be simply composted at home without needing any special equipment.

In 2010, Ecovative commercially launched a portfolio of protective packaging products, originally called EcoCradle®. Steelcase, a global provider of office furniture, and Dell, the computer technology corporation, were early adopters. Since then, Ecovative has supplied their protective packaging to a growing number of other Fortune 500 companies. Ecovative is also investigating further applications, such as insulation, consumer products, and new bio-materials.

EcoCradle wine shipper
EcoCradle wine shipper

Since starting with two people 6 years ago, Ecovative has experienced very steep growth, reaching about 60-70 employees today, opening a new factory a year ago and planning additional plants in North America and Europe in the future.

For further information see the Ecovative website.