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.
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.
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.