Eben Bayer is on a mission: he wants simply to eradicate the polystyrene packaging industry. The trouble with 1-phenylethane-1,2-diyl, as the resourceful 26-year-old entrepreneur from Vermont sees it, is that, as no known microorganism can biodegrade it, it pollutes the oceans and clutters landfills -- making up around 30 per cent of US landfills alone, according to some estimates. In the 173 years since Eduard Simon first produced polystyrene, it has become a highly lucrative by-product of the oil industry, made using a liquid hydrocarbon derived from petroleum in a process that creates millions of tonnes a year. But Bayer has a plan to change all that.
His plan involves replacing polystyrene with mushrooms. By combining fungus with agricultural waste to create packaging that's cheap, durable and biodegradable, Bayer hopes to disrupt an environmentally destructive industry valued globally at around $20 billion (£13 billion).
"It pulls in the cellulose, digests it and turns it into a polymer. What we do is use the organism as glue; a living glue that grows into every nook and cranny."
Each cubic centimetre of EcoCradle foam contains some 4.8km of mycelium fibre, all created without a single unit of energy. "This organism is not a picky eater," says Bayer. "We can use almost any lignose-cellulosic waste as a substrate." That includes sawdust, hemp core, paper pulp, even lobster shells.
This is the advantage of the company's product, EcoCradle: it does not require fossil fuels to manufacture and it's fully compostable. When it arrives on your doorstep, you simply throw it on the garden. Within 90 days, it's biodegraded. "If you look at a piece of Styrofoam [polystyrene]," says McIntyre, "it's derived from a resource that's been in the earth for 65 million years. If you look at a piece of cardboard, it comes from a tree that grew for seven or eight years before it could be sustainably harvested. We're taking waste and growing a fungus around it in five to seven days. From raw material to finished product," Bayer adds, "we're faster than anyone else in the world."
Chris Raymond, Wired. We grew this headline.