Are Mushrooms the New Packing Peanuts?


In 2010, Eben Bayer, co-founder of Evocative, announced that mushrooms were about to become the new packing peanuts – but what has happened to this miracle of modern industry since then?

What is Myco Foam?

Myco Foam, an organic adhesive made of mycelium, a living, growing organism, is hitting the market in a big way, turning agriwaste into the packing peanuts of the 21st century. When waste is introduced to mycelium, the root structure of the mushroom breaks down the waste and seals it together into a Styrofoam-like material that can completely replace packing peanuts.

“In nature,” Bayer says, “Mushrooms are the recycling system.” Evocative is just taking a page out of nature’s book.

Because this new Styrofoam is grown rather than synthetically produced, Bayer explained in his 2010 TED Talk, it does not have the same impact on the planet as packing peanuts, doing away with both the enormous energy consumption of producing polystyrene and the long-lasting effects of these products, which take thousands of years to break down.

Styrofoam, one of the worst offenders, takes up about 25 percent of our landfills, Bayer says, “In a single cubic foot of this material — about what would come around your computer or large television — you have the same energy content of about a liter and a half of petrol.”

The Evocative Philosophy

The Evocative approach is an intriguing one, born of Cradle to Cradle design philosophy and a true desire to improve the way we treat the earth.

“Our ultimate goal is not just to be sustainable, but to actually be environmentally beneficial,” Bayer told GreenBiz. “By making this material you’re sequestering carbon; you’re restoring the soil and making the world a better place. We’re trying to go beyond zero impact and have a positive impact.”

To do this, Evocative have opened the floor to designers to find new and innovative ways to use the product. With kits, anyone can mold the material to their own designs. In 2014, designer David Benjamin took advantage of this and used a kit sold by the company to create bricks of his own design. Evocative helped him replicate the bricks to build the 40-foot tall Hy-Fi tower entirely from mushrooms.

Others can continue to take advantage of this via Myco Make, kits that allow you to create anything you like with the base product used by Evocative.

Where Has Myco Foam Replaced Packing Peanuts?

Two years after its founding in 2007, Evocative licensed its packaging technology to Sealed Air, a $7.6 billion dollar packaging and materials company perhaps best known for Bubble Wrap. In 2011, Evocative struck big when Dell Computers decided to begin using the mushroom packing materials in place of polystyrene, becoming the first in technology to do so.

“We’ve tested the mushroom cushioning extensively in the lab to ensure it meets our same high standards to safely protect our products during shipment – and it passed like a champ,” Oliver Campbell, Dell’s senior packaging manager, wrote in a blog post.

Puma and Crate & Barrel also use the mushroom packaging, and soon, so will Ikea.

“We are looking for innovative alternatives to materials, such as replacing our polystyrene packaging with mycelium – fungi packaging,” Johanna Yarrow, head of sustainability for Ikea in the UK, told the Telegraph earlier this year.

Ikea was particularly interested in the material’s ability to be grown into any form. “You can create bespoke packaging,” she said.

The product is not only sustainable, it’s also cost competitive with polystyrene foams, which should make the switch a no-brainer for other companies going forward. “We’re not going to replace all polystyrene overnight, but that’s certainly the direction in which we’re headed,” Bayer said.

While the company waits for the rest of the world to switch gears and choose mushrooms over packing peanuts, Evocative has other plans on the horizon. It recently developed a replacement product for wood, called Myco Board.

“Current engineered woods are held together with urea-formaldehyde, a known carcinogen,” Bayer explains. “Our technology platform binds particles together with naturally occurring mycelium.”

Other products currently in development include Myco Grow, a replacement for floral foams, and Myco Flex, which could be the source of your next yoga mat. It appears that nothing is too crazy for the humble mushroom when the right minds are put to the task.

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Image care of Evocative

Emily Monaco

Emily Monaco is an American food and culture writer based in Paris. She loves uncovering the stories behind ingredients and exposing the face of our food system, so that consumers can make educated choices. Her work has been published in the Wall Street Journal, Vice Munchies, and Serious Eats.