There's a Plastic-Eating Fungus Among Us

Forget plastics. The future may be in edible, plastic-eating mushrooms cultivated in a futuristic pod.

Photo by: paris tsitsos

paris tsitsos

That classic scene from the movie The Graduate was all too true. There is a great future in plastics. The problem, though, is that future may be devastatingly long – in fact, no one really knows quite how long conventional plastics take to break down. It could be hundreds upon hundreds of years, and even when they break down, they never really go away completely. And that’s not great for our planet.

Now, science may have an answer. One word: mushrooms.

Austrian designers Katharina Unger and Julia Kaisinger, co-founders of the collaborative design firm LIVIN Studio, have teamed up with researchers at Utrecht University to devise a fungi food product they hope is capable of solving two global problems at once: too much plastic waste and too little food.

The collaborators created a prototype for a futuristic-looking tabletop “Fungi Mutarium” that cultivates two common, edible mushroom strains, Schizophyllum commune and Pleurotus ostreatus, that can consume plastic – and then, if all goes as planned, themselves be consumed.

The mushrooms are cultivated in cuplike pods made of agar, a gelatinous seaweed-based substance, mixed with starch and sugar, which provides the fungi with basic nutrients. Into these pods, dubbed “FUs,” which are housed in a mushroom-shaped “growth sphere,” the designers placed a part of a fungus called the mycelium and sterilized plastic. The mycelium digests the plastic and colonizes the FU, taking the shape of the pod. After a few weeks, the fungus is ripe for harvesting.

But don’t reach for your fork and your recipe book just yet. It’s still unclear if the mushrooms grown in the Fungi Mutarium are entirely safe for general consumption, but Unger says she has eaten them. How did they taste? She described them to Wired as “quite neutral.”

Photo courtesy of LIVIN Studio and Paris Tsitsos
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