Mushrooms Could Help Solve the Beauty Industry’s Waste Problem

In recent years, the beauty industry has begun to lean towards clear skin, an all-natural look, and easy-going vibes. From sheet masks to disposable salon sandals to plastic lining in the shipping of even eco-friendly materials, waste is everywhere in the beauty industry.  But we can’t continue in this way for much longer. According to the United Nations, half of all plastic is designed to be used only once, and environmental scientists are suggesting that plastics will serve as a geological indicator of the Anthropocene era, despite becoming ubiquitous only within the past hundred years. Styrofoam takes up an estimated 30% space in landfills and stays there for about 500 years! Trash is floating around our oceans and the microplastics that break down from it are now found in our food supply (yes, its in your body). With packaging accounting for 40% of plastic usage, beauty brands are turning to a natural solution: mushroom mycelium.

“Mycelium is the root structure of mushrooms,” explains Loney Abrams, florist, artist, and co-owner of Wretched Flowers. “Mycelium networks can take on any form and once they colonize a form, it’s incredibly durable, insulating, and flame resistant”—properties which make mushrooms an ideal substitute for Styrofoam and plastic. Abrams and her partner, Johnny Stanish, have used mycelium before. It was the material that made up their Bondage vases (also designed in special colors for a collaboration with the sustainable clothing brand Eden), which function conjunctly as vessels and shipping containers. Stanish and Abrams want when mycelium to replace Styrofoam in shipping large pieces of art, and make the case that mycelium could benefit a lot of industries, from art and flowers to beauty. Wretched Flowers sources from and is inspired by Ecovative Design, the company that has been growing mycelium in the U.S., Europe, and New Zealand to combat single-use plastics since 2007.

“Mushrooms are nature’s recycling system,” explains Gavin McIntyre, co-founder of Ecovative Design. “They’re decomposers. Mycelium grows really quickly, and for the industrial process, [we’re able to grow it] in days.” Many compostable products, such as the compostable cups that you see at coffee shops, are made from polylactic acid (PLA), a corn sugar fermented by bacteria, and are only industrially compostable. Mycelium products biodegrade within a month in home compost, meaning they don’t need to be sent out to a facility.

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