Mushroom Material Targets the Beauty Industry With a Styrofoam Alternative

by Nahla Davies on 11/12/2021 | 5 Minute Read

Styrofoam is one of the most commonly used materials for packaging takeaway food and beauty products. Sure, it’s useful, but it’s especially harmful to the environment because it is non-recyclable. According to the Society for Environmental Journalists, Styrofoam is the most commonly littered product and accounts for 30% of global landfills. Plus, the material takes somewhere in the neighborhood of 500 years to degrade naturally. What’s more, the manufacturing of plastic releases harmful greenhouse gases into the ozone, and its degradation releases toxic chemicals into the air and soil. 

Thankfully, there are alternatives to our styrofoam addiction. New Zealand start-up Mushroom Material has developed a sustainable packaging alternative made from fungi. An ideal replacement to Styrofoam for many products, the beauty world is especially smitten with this new substrate. 

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Wait...Mushroom Packaging?

The sustainable packaging from Mushroom Materials gets made from mycelium, a natural material found in mushrooms. Essentially, it's the vegetative component of a fungus, and it contains many threads that branch out, almost like the roots of a tree. Additionally, mycelium plays a critical role in decomposing plant material and adding carbon dioxide back into the atmosphere. It is given its strength from fibrous agricultural waste derived from products like hemp hulls, sawdust, straw, and wood chips. 

Amazingly, the product is stronger pound-for-pound than concrete and has better thermal insulation than fiberglass. The product is odorless and mold-resistant, and the material naturally degrades within six weeks, which is lightning-fast compared to the 500 years for Styrofoam to break down.

Despite the name, Mushroom Materials doesn't come from fully grown mushrooms. The company develops it by using mushroom roots mixed with the natural agricultural byproducts mentioned above. They manage the roots under the right temperature and light that allows them to grow into a network of fungal threads (mycelium) they mold so the package can take on its required shape. 

Mushroom Material presents a perfect solution for companies that want to scale but also be environmentally responsible. With a disrupted supply chain due to the COVID-19 pandemic, many companies are looking for alternative suppliers. Unsurprisingly, 1 in 5 American small businesses report that they do not feel prepared to handle the challenges COVID-19 presented, with most of the surveyed companies citing reduced cash flow and difficulty adapting to global supply chain issues. 

Furthermore, as people learn more about the damaging effects of single-use plastic on our environment, we have seen an increase in grassroots environmental activism. People are more likely than ever to change their daily habits to live a more eco-conscious lifestyle. 

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Packaging Challenges 

Dealing with natural products has its challenges, however. For example, developing a substrate with a shelf life of two years but that can still degrade in six weeks requires special attention. Pile on the aesthetics and branding for the packaging, and the situation intensifies. 

Plus, if the company uses entirely biological substances, it can run into challenges with international trade when crossing borders. Many countries have strict import restrictions regarding natural products to protect the natural ecosystem from invasive plants, insects, and animals. Navigating these laws and urging governments to take action to support more environmentally sustainable materials has presented difficulties.

However, properly manufactured and treated wood is allowed to cross borders freely. Helping local governments understand the benefits of mushroom-based materials and creating an infrastructure permitting safe bio substances to get freely imported and exported is a target for Mushroom Materials. Many international and local governments are making significant changes to protect the environment, and products from Mushroom Materials will likely get embraced very shortly. 

Sp, Why the Beauty Industry?

Mushroom Material wants to target the beauty industry for its products, and it’s not hard to see why. Even during a pandemic, the beauty industry remained resilient with room to grow. 

One reason the industry is mushroom-curious is because of mycelium and its obvious perks. Mycelium can take on any form, and once it does so, it's durable and resistant to fire. Mycelium-based products can also biodegrade completely in under a month, and they don’t need to go to a specific facility like industrial compostable packaging.

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The pandemic fueled a massive expansion of eCommerce globally, as many people turned to online shopping as a safe way to purchase products. Unfortunately, with all of the deliveries generated, that coincided with the increased reliance on plastic packaging materials, particularly Styrofoam. With eCommerce expected to hit revenues of $7.3 trillion by 2025, it’s clear that the convenience of online shopping is here to stay. 

Responsible companies must look to alternative packaging solutions that are not harmful to our environment for their eco-conscious customers. The beauty industry is one in which the use of natural, biodegradable packaging can make a difference; Mushroom Material offers the perfect packaging solution for high-value, fragile items that generally require a lot of plastic protection. And you can already find some of these mycelium-based materials like Bel Rebel Fragrances and Amen candles.

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The Future is Fungi

Mushroom Material is focused on secondary packaging, meaning the exterior packaging that the customer first sees. With the material’s ability to mold into aesthetically pleasing designs, Mushroom Material will be a compostable alternative for cosmetic companies with eco-conscious customers. Generation Z or Millennial buyers have significant buying power, and they are statistically more likely (73%) to prefer environmentally-friendly companies and products. 

And frankly, they're on to something. Consumers are sick of unnecessary plastic waste, and they want a safe and healthy environment for all living beings. Young consumers love to support eco-friendly products and companies, and the solutions offered by Mushroom Materials simply and elegantly solve one of the biggest pollution problems faced globally. 

As people continue to become more aware of the importance of preserving our planet, consumers and governments alike will be making choices that favor less harmful packaging in domestic and internationally shipped products.

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