According to US Green Buildings Council (USGBC), the American construction industry contributes to 39% of all CO2 emissions and produces 534 million tons of waste in the country alone. Just as wasteful, half of all the food produced worldwide is trashed, leaving approximately 60 million tons of it in landfills. In fact, food waste in the United States alone accounts for approximately 133 billion pounds ( or $161 billion worth of food) according to the USDA.
What do these two sets of facts have to do with each other and what can we do to reduce food and construction waste? Well, companies across the world have been finding ways to use food waste for other means, like construction. It is with this idea that Ecovative, a startup headquartered out of Green Island, New York set out to create more sustainable construction materials.
Using mycelium, the vegetative part of fungi (usually the root portion of mushrooms) they create biomaterials, which can be used in construction. They use mycelium because mushroom materials are high performing, fiscally feasible, not derived from food that would otherwise have been consumed, fire retardant, compostable, renewable and can be customized into particular shapes and designs.
How does it work? First agricultural waste is purchased from farmers directly. It is then cleaned and added to mycelium. Once that process is complete, it is bagged for a few days where the mycelium digests the agricultural waste like a food source. Once all of the waste is fully intermixed with the mycelium, it is broken into loose particles and stored away. The mycelium forms a solid block and when it is completely solid it is then dried so that the mycelium growth is halted and no mushrooms or spoors form.
They test their materials in-house and have third parties verify the durability and usability of their building materials. After products no longer have a use, they decompose once introduced to living organisms like those found in soil, and moisture. The products do not break down while in use, rather, once no longer needed, they would have to be exposed to environmental conditions conducive to decomposition.
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The materials are grown in their manufacturing facility in Green Island, NY. There are two kinds of ways for them to grow materials into shapes. They use molded shapes for smaller blocks (for example, blocks used for packaging or home accessories) and an aerated bed reactor for larger shapes like those used for door cores or furniture cores.
The molded shapes are grown in 7 days and work best for designs with more complex geometric shapes. Molds for their most popular shapes are always in stock, though they have a web store, which allows buyers to look at their other shapes. If none of the molds available are what the user needs, they can submit ideas for custom shapes.
Materials produced using their aerated bed reactor (ABR) are used for structural applications. The mycelium is molded into large blocks and is not formed into complex or specialized geometric shapes. It takes about 10 days to grow this material and companies can elect to have the ABR generate materials locally as well. To do so, they can fill a bin with sterilized substrate from a region of their choice and add the mycelium strain from Ecovative.
What kinds of products do they sell? Ecovative allows companies to request shapes or commission custom shapes for packaging or housing materials, they also give users the ability to purchase prefabricated products in their web store. They sell smaller products like planters, acoustic wall tiles and small coolers as well as larger products like tables and even a MycroFoam teddy bear and an Ecovative t-shirt.
Ecovative’s core mission is to develop and create materials that are better for the Earth, reduce unnecessary food waste and to replace unsustainable chemicals in the construction industry. Their most recent product was a Grow-It-Yourself lamp, which allows users to purchase mycelium mix and a mold with simple instructions to build their own lamps. All required materials, including the light set are included and the materials are 100% compostable. It was recently made possible by a KickStarter campaign.
These new innovations show that, even a decade after their launch, Ecovative is still growing and adapting to the changing needs of their demographics. By finding a way to eliminate food waste and hazardous construction materials, they’re making life just a little better on our planet Earth.