The future lies in growing your own packaging

Ecovative's Eben Bayer writes in on the new age of recycling and packaging materials you can grow with fungi.

Infinite economic growth is at odds with our finite planet, and this obsession with endless growth is driving us towards ecological catastrophe. I’ve just returned from the annual World Economic Forum meeting, and this reality has never been so clear to me. The forum brings together economists, but also activists, business leaders, humanitarians and technologists. 

As the co-founder of Ecovative, an unorthodox green material science company, I tend to frame our economic and ecological challenges around materials, and the stuff, that makes up everything we use.

Lots of exciting technologies get discussed at the World Economic Forum meeting, but I’ve never heard of a technological method of recycling materials that uses no energy and generates no waste. We live in a world where far less than half of all recyclable materials are actually recycled.

When they are recycled, this process takes a large amount of energy, and generally yields lower and lower grade materials. To borrow a term from Bill McDonough and Michael Braungart’s book Cradle to Cradle, these recycling systems are generally “downcycling”. So, that plastic soda bottle you toss into the recycling bin is likely to be part of a park bench rather than another food grade bottle.

Now, that’s not to say we should give up and stop recycling. It’s still a positive and worthwhile thing to do. But what if we could live in a society where everything—and I mean everything—was recycled using a system that requires no electricity and runs forever?

Rather than pouring decades of human effort into bumping up recycling rates by a few percent through TV ads and education, we need to invent a way to recycle everything, no matter what. Instead of spending millions of dollars developing more energy efficient recycling equipment, we need recycling systems that don’t use any electricity, and don’t even need any machinery whatsoever.

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