Mushroom Board

Eliminate trash and chemicals.

A piece of mushroom board, created by Ecovative Design in upstate New York, has sat on my desk for the past six years. It has moved from the desk in my design office to the desk at my school office and back again. This product shows us rapidly growing spores of mycelium can be used as a replacement for Styrofoam.

Mushroom board is grown from an organic process found in nature. It can be molded into any shape or thickness. Ecovative uses vegetative waste material to create the structure for the board. If mushrooms replaced Styrofoam, we could stop using petrochemicals to make packing materials that create tons of trash and never leave the planet. Styrofoam is not only toxic to the planet, it’s also coated with chemicals that are harmful to humans. We could instead grow insulating material using the energy of the earth.

Package insulation is a huge industry. For furniture alone, shipping bulky items across continents requires tons of packing material. What happens to these packing materials at the end? They are thrown away and create landfills. With mushroom board, packaging material could be added to gardens. At the end of its life, the material could go back to the earth, nourishing the soil in the process.

Beyond testing this as packing material, Ecovative is experimenting with creating airtight, insulated structural walls and grown-in-place building installations. They are also looking at replacing toxic spray foams, which are horrible for human and environmental health, with a mushroom spray that could fill gaps of any shape—and it’s naturally flame-retardant!

This product is very exciting as it combines cutting-edge science, technical engineering, and manufacturing know-how. Ecovative is also approaching the roll out of these products in a very smart way. They are experimenting with firms in many different industries at once, including packaging, acoustic panel, and insulation companies.

Mushroom board is about eliminating trash and chemicals. It’s a return to the earth but in a forward thinking way. It shows us great strides in science don’t need to be artificial or synthetic.

Jonsara Ruth is an assistant professor and the founding director of the MFA program in interior design at Parsons the New School for Design, and she leads the Brooklyn-based design collective, Salty Labs.

This is an excerpt from Designed for the Future: 80 Practical Ideas for a Sustainable World by Jared Green, published by Princeton Architectural Press, reprinted here with permission of the publisher.

Image credit: Mushroom Board / Jonsara Ruth