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The future of green containers: Mushrooms packaged in mushrooms


Can wearing mushrooms on St. Patrick’s Day keep you from getting pinched? Considering the earth-friendly, or green, uses of fungi, it just might be possible. Rather than build a raised bed for a few lettuce plants, my ingenious friends rested a bag of potting soil in a sunny area of their yard. Then, they sliced the plastic off the broadside of the bag. This created the perfect raised area in which they could plant their new lettuce seedlings. The only thing that could have made this brilliant move even better would have been biodegradable packaging for the potting soil.

This is my suggestion for a company in New York that manufactures, or more accurately stated, grows biodegradable packaging. They should create bags that hold potting soil. Then, we could all follow my friends’ lead and not have to worry about plastic littering the yard. Gardening would be easier and more earth-friendly for those of us with urban thumbs. From what I’ve been able to glean about this innovative company, the biodegradable packaging is made from mushrooms.

Virtually anything that can be made out of plastic can be crafted out of mushrooms. The resulting product can then be composted or, if you’re super hungry, eaten. But then, non-toxic crayons can also technically be ingested. Neither would make the best side dish. In addition to potting soil bags, I wouldn’t mind having a few other fungus-based types of packaging I could toss into my compost heap rather than the recycling bin or, dare I say, a trash can.

Food packaging is a must. Think of all the snacks and pre-made meals that currently come wrapped, boxed or otherwise marketed in plastic. Microwaveable delicacies come to mind, as do egg cartons. If my family could compost all that packaging, we would no longer have to be the family with the embarrassingly overstuffed recycle and trash cans at the curb each week. An untidy look is not our only issue with our tendency to overuse curbside pickup. During stormy weather, a toppled can at our house translates to a debris field that imposes upon our neighbors. Six people, three dogs and three cats can produce a lot of post-consumer rubbish.

It would be nice if the mushroom material could be used for vehicles. I realize automobiles are not made out of plastic. However, just think of how convenient it would be if a junked car could disintegrate into nourishing soil for surrounding greenery within months rather than rust slowly over decades. I’m not sure how one would keep the mushroom car intact for the five or so years someone would need to drive it, but I don’t have to know that. I’m a writer, not a scientist.

While I have my priorities for mushroom-based packaging products, I also have concerns about things that, while plastic is the current non-green norm, mushrooms might not be the best alternative. Pens, for example, need not be edibly biodegradable. People already chew on pens, but most folks are able to refrain from biting off a piece and ingesting it. Let’s consider the mushroom-based pen. A writer innocently sits under a tree on a warm spring day and pulls a journal and pen out of her satchel. She opens the journal, writes a few lines, and then turns her head up toward the clouds, lost in creative thought. One end of the pen ends up in her mouth. It’s not tasty, but she is aware of its composition. She is also cognizant of the health benefits of mushrooms. As the writer stares at the clouds, swirling between creative ideas and mushrooms, she realizes she’s hungry. The whole grain everything bagel with vegetable cream cheese is but a mere faded memory to her digestive system. The memory, however, is enough to push her thoughts toward the unhealthy amount of cream cheese she used on her bagel. Guilt over eating the entire bagel and finishing what was left of her son’s bagel swells up like a wave in her mind’s ocean. She begins to silently scold herself for her choices, especially in consideration of the effect of cream cheese on her cholesterol levels. She decides against a sandwich for lunch. She needs something healthy, like mushrooms.

Her stomach growls. She bites the pen. It’s hard, but she’s able to choke it down. Ink sprays everywhere, but she doesn’t care. She rationalizes that the ink must be non-toxic. She takes another bite. Within minutes, the pen is devoured and ink stains cover her face, clothing and journal. The odds of the pen scenario actually coming to fruition are small, I’m sure.

However, the more we can toss in the compost heap, the better. Therefore, I am ready to accept fungi into my life as past generations have accepted plastics and other novel conveniences. Think of the lush lawns and gardens we’ll have when we double or even triple our composting efforts with packaging. I can practically taste the crisp lettuce already.

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Micki Bare is a columnist for the Arkansas News Bureau and the Courier-Tribune in Asheboro, N.C., and author of “Thurston T. Turtle Moves to Hubbleville.” She lives in Asheboro with her husband, three children and mother. Her e-mail address is mickibare@inspiredscribe.com.