Everyday Enviro with Elise: making things with mushrooms - Planet Ark Environmental Foundation

Everyday Enviro with Elise: making things with mushrooms

By Elise Catterall  September 1st, 2020

Could mushrooms be the sustainable material we've been waiting for? From leather substitutes to cleaning up oil spills, our regular contributor Elise Catterall investigates the versatile applications of fungi.

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Mushrooms have long been a hero for many people (myself included). Whether it be due to their nutritional prowess — low kilojoules, high fibre, B vitamins, copper, selenium, magnesium, zinc and several antioxidants — or their role in herbal medicine for immune support, specifically Reishi, Shiitake and Cordyceps.

Now, it seems that mushrooms are being elevated beyond hero status, possibly even to the status of environmental saviour, and I am fully behind it. Organisations and individuals are cultivating and creating products from mushrooms and their filaments that can replace (or avoid) the use of plastics, chemicals and animals and be more sustainable overall. On top of that, mushroom cultivation relies on waste material — manure, sawdust, cottonseed husks and pistachio shells — which is a low-resource bonus.

Some examples of mushrooms' versatility are their use as: a clean, safe and efficient insulation product called Myco Foam, an alternative packaging material and a synthetic wood substrate that is used in furniture manufacturing. They can also be used to breakdown and clean up industrial waste and pollution such as oil spills, control erosion in soil, attract and control insect populations and protect and heal disease in plants (when used in companion planting). 

These amazing applications are evidence of how impressive and important mushrooms — or more accurately, fungi, because we are referring to the whole organism — are. But perhaps the biggest way mushrooms might have a positive environmental impact, in a mainstream sense, is in their use as a leather substitute.

The skin of mushrooms, especially the Reishi mushroom or ‘Ganoderma lucidum’, can be turned into a leather-like substance which not only it grows exponentially but can be produced in a fraction of the time that it would take to produce a cow hide. And that is without any harm coming to a cow, greenhouse gas production or land loss for grazing that accompanies animal agriculture. The process also omits the scores of chemicals that are used to manufacture leather from hide. This video is a great explanation of the process:

The benefits of mushroom leather are many: it is breathable, water resistant and water wicking, antibiotic and strong. Stronger than other plant leathers, stronger than many other plastic-based ‘vegan’ leathers, even stronger than some animal leathers. And softer.  

For these reasons, we are slowly seeing mushroom leather enter the mainstream. Among others, fashion designer Stella McCartney has introduced it into her collections and footwear company nat-2 has designed products with it. With leather being such a huge, and relative resource-intensive, part of the fashion industry, having an eco-friendly alternative is a huge positive. It seems mushrooms could be the sustainable fashion solution we have been waiting for.

See you next time! - Elise

Positive Environment News has been compiled using publicly available information. Planet Ark does not take responsibility for the accuracy of the original information and encourages readers to check the references before using this information for their own purposes. 

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Elise Catterall

Elise is a writer, photographer, and naturopath with a passion for nature. She completed a Master of Public Health in 2017 through the University of Sydney. Her photographic work focuses on flowers and plants as a way of celebrating nature. She has been writing for Planet Ark since 2017, sharing positive environment stories, personal environmental experiences and perspectives.

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