Swedish retail giant looks at biodegradable fungus-based packaging to replace polystyrene, which is tricky to recycle
Ikea plans to use packaging made with mushrooms as an eco-friendly replacement for polystyrene, the Swedish retail giant has revealed.
The flat-pack furniture retailer is looking at using the biodegradable “fungi packaging” as part of its efforts to reduce waste and increase recycling, Joanna Yarrow, head of sustainability for Ikea in the UK said.
“We are looking for innovative alternatives to materials, such as replacing our polystyrene packaging with mycelium – fungi packaging,” she said.
Mycelium is the part of a fungus that grows in a mass of branched fibres, attaching to the soil or whatever it is growing on – in effect, mushroom roots.
US firm Ecovative developed the product, which it calls Mushroom Packaging, by letting the mycelium grow around clean agricultural waste, such as corn stalks or husks.
Over the space of a few days the fungus fibres bind the waste together, forming a solid shape, which is then dried to stop it growing any further.
Ms Yarrow told the Telegraph that Ikea was looking at introducing mycelium packaging because “a lot of products come in polystyrene, traditionally, which can’t be – or is very difficult to – recycle”.
While polystyrene takes thousands of years to decompose, mycelium packaging can be disposed of simply by throwing it in the garden where it will biodegrade naturally within a few weeks.
Speaking at an Aldersgate Group sustainability event in London this week, Ms Yarrow added: “The great thing about mycelium is you can grow it into a mould that then fits exactly. You can create bespoke packaging.”
An Ikea spokesman confirmed it was looking at working with Ecovative, adding: “We always look for new and innovative processes and sustainable materials that can contribute to our commitment.
“Mycelium is one of the materials IKEA is looking into, but it is currently not used in production.”
Ecovative, whose founders invented the mushroom-based material in 2006, currently manufactures its packaging in New York. Customers include computer giant Dell, which uses it to cushion large computer servers.
A handful of companies are believed to use the product in the UK.
Ikea’s green drive has already seen it launch vegetarian meatballs as a more eco-friendly alternative to the Swedish meatballs served in its cafes, because of concerns about the greenhouse gas emissions from beef and pork.
A spokesman for the retailer said: “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.”
How the Mushroom Packaging is made
- Agricultural waste such as corn husks is cleaned.
- Mycelium is added, and the mixture is left for a few days.
- Mycelium grows fibres as it reaches out to digest the agricultural waste.
- Mixture is broken up into loose particles.
- Particles are put into shaped mould for a few days. Mycelium grows and forms a solid shape.
- Solid shape is removed and dried to stop growth and prevent production of mushrooms or spores.