The initiative has been developed by Austrian designers and a team of Dutch microbiologists, paving the way for the emergence of sustainable solutions for our plastic waste.
Plastic is the great evil of the 21st century: of the 300 million tonnes we produce every year, the vast majority ends up in on our waste dumps or in the oceans. Plastic takes about 4,000 years to degrade in the natural environment, and the plants that deal with it by combustion emit large amounts of CO2 and toxic fumes. Finding recycling or reuse solutions is imperative. Here’s one that’s particularly astonishing - make the plastic edible by transforming it into fungus!
There are certain kinds of fungi - including oyster mushrooms and Schizophyllum commune - capable of synthesizing polyurethane, which is the main element in plastic. On the strength of this discovery, two young Austrian designers joined forces with microbiologists from the University of Utrecht in the Netherlands to develop the "Fungi Mutarium". In this mini-heated greenhouse – like an incubator - mushrooms can grow by digesting plastic. Here's how.
First, small organic shapes made of sugar, agar and starch are placed in the mutarium. The designers called these shapes "FU". They serve as a nest for the fungi. The pieces of plastic to be recycled are UV treated. This sterilizes them and activates the degradation process. Then they are placed inside the FUs. Finally, fungi sprouts in a liquid nutrient solution are poured onto the plastic in the FUs. For several weeks, the fungi feed on the FU and plastic, developing until they have completely digested everything.
An inspiring sustainable initiative
After several months, a perfectly edible mushroom is obtained - research has proved that it contains none of the toxic elements found in the plastic. The designers who tasted it say it has a slight aniseed flavor.
But you won’t have a Fungi Mutarium in your living room anytime soon. The system is only in the prototype stage and the team is currently carrying out tests to refine it. In particular the researchers are trying to accelerate the growth process and grow different kinds of fungi.
Nevertheless, this project does pave the way for durable - and original - solutions for treating our plastic waste. Who knows? In the future we may see plastic mushrooms served alongside our insect steaks!
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Main picture: Livin Studio