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Mushroom Cup

Mushroom Cup is a fully compostable cup grown into shape using mushrooms and is coated with cellulose acetate, a biodegradable plastic.

Photo of Jake Rynkiewicz
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Idea Title

Mushroom Cup: an IDSA award winning concept

Idea Summary

Mushroom Cup is a heat resistant product which contains a dormant fungus inside its walls, reactivating only when it's thrown away.

Company / Organization Name (if applicable)

Concentric LLC

Website (if applicable)

Please include a visual (can be either 2D or 3D) representation/prototype of your concept. (required)


After thoroughly researching the current state of waste culture in the US, I gave myself this challenge: Would it be possible to leave the world a better place by encouraging people to throw something away? If so, I knew that whatever I choose as my ideal disposable material would need to not only biodegrade itself, but potentially neutralize any toxic materials that disposable object contains.

The ideal material I arrived at is fungus, specifically the mycelium growth of oyster mushrooms. Mycelium is the root structure of a mushroom, and it can be utilized to bind fine materials very tightly together. When dried, it stops growing and creates a solid structure. This discovery led me to explore the properties of a material produced by a pioneering company in the biomaterials space named Ecovative. 

How it Works

Mushroom Cup is made using a completely carbon-neutral production method. First, the mushroom material is mixed together with water and flour to activate the growth process. Next it is packed into a thermoformed plastic mold and placed in a cool and dark area to grow for 5 days. Once finished growing, the cup is taken out of the mold and dried out at room temperature. The final step is to coat the cup in a thin layer of cellulose acetate, which is dissolved in a liquid solvent and painted over the entire surface. 

Food safety

The end product is food safe, waterproof, and effectively insulates heat from the user's hands.The heat threshold has been tested up to 212°F, the boiling point of water. With a lid that is also made from cellulose acetate, the experience of using Mushroom Cup is no different from the disposable cups used today.

Production Details

The production timeline for an individual cup is approximately 8-10 days. The mushroom material needs 5 days to fully grow its roots and bind the loose material together, then 3-5 days to dry before being coated with cellulose acetate. While this might seem like a long time, the 'mold' these products are made in can be made in large volumes. So while the traditional injection molding process has the advantage of quick individual cycle times, this new manufacturing method can have hundreds of cups growing in cheap thermoformed plastic molds at once. Then the cups are 'harvested' in large quantities every day to prepare them for shipment.

This solution addresses which of the following:

  • Hot / Cold Fiber Cup
  • Hot Cup Only
  • Cold Cup Only
  • Cup Lids
  • Cup Sleeve
  • Cup Liner
  • Some of the Above
  • Other

How is your concept recoverable?

The Mushroom Cup is a solution that doesn't need any additional infrastructure for its disposal, and can be thrown away in any standard municipal trash. Additionally, since the materials are biodegradable, Mushroom Cup can decompose if it ends up being discarded in the environment.

How have you incorporated additional sustainability attributes (beyond recoverability) into your solution?

Mushroom Cup is not only made out of biodegradble materials, but it is produced using a method that produces zero carbon emissions.

What regions do you plan to address with your solution (and how will you accomplish this)?

This solution is intended to be used globally. One of the bonuses of the material being made from mushrooms and agricultural waste is that these materials can be sourced from anywhere. That means the cost and pollution from material transportation can be minimized or eliminated entirely.

Describe your target market. Who will benefit from your product?

My target market for Mushroom Cup is everyday coffee drinkers who prefer the convenience of a disposable product over a reusable cup or mug.

What is the current stage of development of your idea?

  • Research & Early Testing
  • Prototyping

What are the biggest challenges you are facing today? What are existing gaps in your solution?

The biggest challenge for Mushroom Cup is scaling the solution, as each cup takes several days to grow into its final form.

Mentorship Needs (please select up to 3)

  • Business Model Development
  • Engineering and Manufacturing
  • Fundraising / Finance

Tell us about yourself and your team. What is your background and experience?

Jake Rynkiewicz has been a practicing industrial designer for the last 10 years, and has just recently completed his masters degree at the University of Illinois at Chicago. He now runs his own design consulting business, Concentric LLC.

In what city are you located?

Chicago, IL

In what country are you located?


What is your legal / organizational structure? (if applicable)


Please describe how becoming a Top Idea will support the growth of your concept.

The growth of the Mushroom Cup concept will greatly benefit from becoming an IDEO Top Idea, as the concept needs much more assistance to be adopted on a large scale. The funding provided will first go to refining the manufacturing of the product to become more cost effective. Next, the funding would help in searching for distribution partners to help get the product in the hands of end users.

How did you hear about the Challenge?

  • Closed Loop Partners website / social media


Material / Recoverability Plan

The mushroom cup is made primarily from 3 materials: a base organic material (such as wood pulp, corn husks, or discarded grains), the mycelium organism which binds that material together, and cellulose acetate which is used as a protective waterproof coating for the cup. The whole concept is that there does not need to be any additional infrastructure to recover the cup once it's discarded. Also, because the material contains a living (but dormant) fungus inside of it, it will biodegrade without the need for any specific conditions (like PLA, for example). The material already has within it the necessary components needed to completely biodegrade on its own. Additionally, the cellulose acetate coating the product is able to biodegrade with the help of fungal enzymes produced by the strain of fungus used in this material (ganoderma, or oyster mushrooms).


The material will initially be sourced from a company called Ecovative, which produces many different types of mycelium-based materials for packaging. Long term, however, I would begin to reproduce those material-production processes for myself in order to bring the cost-per-part down to much more reasonable levels. The added benefit of creating a local material production process is that the raw material (agricultural waste) can be sourced locally, cutting down on transportation costs and carbon emissions. The potential negative external challenges for my chosen material source are: -Agricultural waste won't always be consistent, so this may interfere with the streamlining of a new production process. One solution could be to choose a source that is consistently produced as a byproduct of a cash crop such as corn or soy. This is likely why Ecovative chose corn stalks/husks as one of their first raw material sources when ramping up their own production lines. -The 'growth' process for the material requires relatively sterile conditions to keep the batches from being contaminated with bacteria and mold, meaning that anyone working in the production process would need to be properly trained in order to keep the material from spoiling. The chosen space for production would also need to be made sterile enough to consistently produce usable batches of material.

Final Prototype

The final Mushroom Cup concept now includes multiple sizes, and the lid is now a cork-style plug made from cellulose-coated mushroom material instead of plastic. The cup also now includes a blank area to be branded by partnering companies.


In its current state, the Mushroom Cup is water proof and heat resistant. The thickness of the cups walls (just under .25") allows for greater heat insulation than standard paper or foam cups. The cellulose acetate coating (under 0.5mm) is waterproof and will not dissolve or degrade with heat up to 212°F. If the cups are damaged however, it would be possible for water to seep through the waterproof lining. Interaction between the mycelium and hot liquids would not be harmful to the end user, but might affect taste. The primary challenge would be to put this product through large scale health and safety testing with the state of Illinois. The unique challenge for this product would be its long-term shelf life, as there is a living (but dormant) organism inside of each product. It's possible that the products would need to be shipped and stored in moisture and temperature controlled conditions in a worst-case scenario.

Ecosystem Placement

This solution would be able to get any company in the food service industry to 100% compostability without requiring them to add additional processes for recycling or recovery of used food packaging materials. While this solution is focused specifically on cups, it would be possible to expand the offering to plates, bowls, and possibly to-go boxes. This solution accounts for basically any and all variability in global recovery systems because it can utilize existing municipal trash systems instead of recycling systems. On top of that, discarded products made from this material will not harm the environment and will actually biodegrade in most places outdoors.

Rollout Plan

The Mushroom Cup rollout schedule is as follows: 1. Design refinement from Jan 2019 to March 2019 2. product testing and certification from March 2019 to May 2019 3. Sponsorship, early adopter onboarding from March 2019 to Aug 2019 4. Production space procurement & process refinement from Sept. 2019 to Nov 2019 5. First production batches ready by Dec. 2019 6. Mass market scale ready, take first public orders by [date]

Business Model Canvas

Prize Funding

If selected to be a top idea the funds would be allocated as follows: -20% for development and refinement of the manufacturing process to get the cost down to under $1 per cup -50% in securing a space in which to begin ramping up production of the cup. (very little technology is needed to produce the cups, so the most important aspect is having enough space to 'grow' large batches of cups for the 5 days necessary for this process) -30% in purchasing the materials needed to begin production

NextGen Accelerator

  • Yes, I am interested in participating in the NextGen Cup Accelerator


Join the conversation:

Photo of William Ryberg

if this cup was to hit the market and was actually built would there still be a need for plastic/paper cups? Also if lots of people were to build or use this how would you find enough mushrooms or grow enough to make millions of cups? also I love the idea. :)

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