Eben Bayer grew up on a maple farm in Canada. To fire up the boiler they’d use woodchips, which is where Bayer first learned about mycelium or “nature’s glue”. Heaps of woodchips would – as you may imagine – start to grow mushrooms when left alone outside and when it was time to move the woodchips into the boiler, some chunks would stick to each other and the shovel because of the mycelium in the mushrooms. At the time, Bayer probably didn’t think he would use this knowledge to transform the packaging industry, but that is in fact what happened.

Eben Bayer grew up on a maple farm in Canada. To fire up the boiler they’d use woodchips, which is where Bayer first learned about mycelium or “nature’s glue”. Heaps of woodchips would – as you may imagine – start to grow mushrooms when left alone outside and when it was time to move the woodchips into the boiler, some chunks would stick to each other and the shovel because of the mycelium in the mushrooms. At the time, Bayer probably didn’t think he would use this knowledge to transform the packaging industry, but that is in fact what happened.

Ecovative, founded in 2007 by Bayer and Gavin McIntyre, takes agricultural waste and adds mycelium to create all sorts of sustainable and easily decomposable packaging material as an alternative to the environments biggest enemy: Styrofoam.

The agricultural waste, which Ecovative actually buys off the farmers thus creating an additional income source, is ground up into particles and when the mycelium is added it grows through and around the particles filling every space and leaving a solid structure in – on average – 5 days.

The beauty about Ecovative is that it is completely cost-competitive in the plastics industry (even with gas prices as low as they are today) and it is a relatively easy process to duplicate. The type of agricultural waste does not really matter as long as it is a woody-type of plant stock. In Asia, for example, rice straw could be used.

In 2008, Ecovative won the Postcode Lottery Green Challenge award which really kickstarted their project. They were able to move out of a start-up incubator’s basement and built their first plant. Today, they have 70 employees and process a million pounds of agricultural waste per year.

Ecovative have patented the process and are excited to see other entrepreneurs find different ways of using it. For example, Mushlume has partnered with Ecovative to create sustainable mushroom-grown lamps, and even a wedding dress has been made from mushrooms. Ecovative have now actually created a “GIY” or “Grow It Yourself” kit that you can order online which allows you to grow pretty much anything yourself by just adding water and flour.

Besides revolutionizing the packaging industry in terms of Styrofoam, they’ve now also found a replacement for particleboard, plywood and fiberboard. Like any other new business, Ecovative has known its challenges, “we’ve spent the past 70 years building profitable businesses in plastics, it takes some time to break that down”, explains Bayer, “but there will come a time when we can’t ignore common sense any longer, this really is the future.”

Source: The Optimist


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