If you don't follow heavy-hitting sources like Packaging News, you may have missed a fun fungal story last week. IKEA is upping its green game, or at least its green PR. Sources at the international furniture giant report that they are looking into the viability of replacing non-recyclable packaging materials like polystyrene with mushroom-based composite materials.
I don't care if it's recyclable. Please don't buy unlabled wine from IKEA.
While it sounds like something out of an ecologically minded student's dreamy portfolio, this story might have some weight. New York based brand Ecovative has been working with recycled organic materials to develop a grown option for custom-molded packaging held together by mycelium, aka mushroom roots. Their resulting product is imaginatively called Mushroom Materials. Like most mushroomy-materials we've seen, it takes clean plant matter sourced from agricultural byproducts, inoculates it, allows the rooting network to develop for a few days, and then casts it the appropriate forms. After enough rooty growth to make the material resilient, it's dried to halt growth and avoid spore production. The final product has decent crush resistance, can be produced in custom-fit shapes, and could biodegrade in the consumer's own backyard.
And with a UK IKEA spokesperson on record with a quote like, "IKEA has committed to take a lead in reducing its use of fossil-based materials while increasing its use of renewable and recycled materials," I wouldn't blame anyone for getting hopeful.
Art by Richard Giblett. Doubles as a mind map of IKEA furniture assembly process.
Other brands (some as big as Dell) have already made the switch to Mushroom Packaging for specific products. Given IKEA's ability to dictate the specifics of their products shipping needs and the material's flexibility in meeting them, it sounds like a potentially great fit for the two companies and a boon for too-full landfills.
So why the skepticism? Well, investing in new types of mass production is expensive. Plus, while IKEA's well-documented interest in energy efficiency makes for good returns, the intentions behind a trash-conscious packaging move is hard to take at face value when the lifecycle of the furniture being shipped stays the same.
What do you think? Does this shroomy pitch have roots?