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Swedish furniture behemoth Ikea has announced plans to phase out polystyrene in a bid to encourage the use of sustainable packaging, the next sensible step on the road to reducing our immense amounts of packaging waste generated every year.
It has been proposed that a new material be used as a protective cover for Ikea’s furniture, all of which comes flat-packed and intended for self-assembly. The new packaging will replace non-biodegradable polystyrene with mycelium, a form of mushroom root which will grow and regenerate into the earth once disposed of. Mycelium is a wonderfully versatile substance which is both practical and eco-friendly.
The beauty of mycelium is that it breaks down in less than a month, which could make a huge dent on the tonnes of waste in landfills and dumps across the world. Now, all that is needed is for other multinationals, manufacturers and retailers to initiate similar schemes to ensure that we don’t spend the next century wandering around a post-apocalyptic dumping ground.
Computer manufacturer Dell have been using mycelium for years as part of their product packaging, but with the sheer volume of individual items which Ikea makes, the impact will be even greater.
“We are looking for innovative alternatives to materials, such as replacing our polystyrene packaging with mycelium – fungi packaging,” said Joanna Yarrow, head of sustainability for Ikea in the UK, adding “The great thing about mycelium is you can grow it into a mould that then fits exactly. You can create bespoke packaging.”
The substance, which was developed by a US company called Ecovative, has the potential to replace plastic, but will the world be quick enough to respond. Here is product designer Eben Bayer with a recent TED Talk on the subject.