Tag Archives: Mycelium


The pollution in our environment is growing exponentially from our incessant use of petrochemicals, dyes, paper and heavy metals increasing our exposure to dangerous chemicals at an alarming rate. Cleaning up our contaminated soils and waterways has been a challenge both physically and financially and the need for a natural solution to reverse the course is imperative.

Mycoremediation stems from the words myco (Greek for fungus) and remediation (reversing environmental damage), a term used to describe the use of fungi in degrading contaminants and toxins from the environment. Mycoremediation is a promising approach in environmental cleanup that is yielding remarkable results worldwide.

Fungi are the world’s great decomposers and the only microorganisms able to break down wood.  By secreting enzymes and using their natural digestive ability, they are able to degrade complex compounds such as lignin and cellulose (essential components of plants) into simple molecules without any detrimental effect.  Interestingly, lignin is very similar in structure to many heavy toxins such as crude oil which explains why some fungi are so effective in eliminating contaminants from polluted systems.

Mycoremediation has been effective in the following areas:

  1. Biological:
    Coli and Salmonella are bacteria that can cause severe digestive illnesses usually as a result of contaminated water from infected human and animal feces.  In this case, mycoremediation involves creating biofilters using mycelium (the vegetative part of the fungus) grown on straw or wood chips and placing them near livestock farms and shoreline plantings where runoff occurs.  Runoff is retained long enough to allow the mycelium to consume the bacteria, preventing further contamination.
  2. Chemical:
    Aromatic pollutants (toxic components of petroleum), pesticides and herbicides are persistent contaminants that accumulate and spread up the food chain causing cancer and other chronic diseases.  Mycoremediation entails introducing saprophytic (wood eating) fungi that break down these contaminants into carbon dioxide and water. One successful method includes placing mycelial mats over toxic sites and once the pollutants are dismantled by fungi, other organisms become active and denature toxins.
  3. Industrial:
    Industrial waste is the greatest source of pollution infiltrating our drinking water, soils and the air we breathe presenting a threat to human health as well as our natural resources and wild life.  Mycoremediation involves stabilizing brown fields (contaminated sites) by decomposing carcinogenic compounds before they leach into our water system.  Industrial run off can be captured by mycelium mats, radioactivity can be absorbed by some fungi and heavy metals can be consumed by mushrooms which are then harvested and disposed of. In order for mycoremediation to be successful, the right fungi must match the targeted contaminant.

The following is a short list of fungi varieties and some of the contaminants they denature:

Shiitake, turkey tail Wood preservatives, herbicides
Oyster mushroom, turkey tail TNT
Oyster, shiitake, maitake PCBs
Oyster, shiitake Hydrocarbons (crude oil, natural gas etc)
Psylocibe spp., turkey tail Persistent Organophosphates (Pesticides)
King oyster, oyster, Turkey tail Dioxins (herbicides, paper bleach etc)
Turkey tail Anthracene (coal tar)

Mycoremediation is only one step in the complex process of bioremediation but one that is important in stabilizing contaminated environments and restoring habitats.  The advantages of mycoremediation are that it is natural, safe, low maintenance, reusable, cost effective and fast. Though we continue to pollute our environment, our habits are changing, laws protecting our natural resources are being implemented and our resolve to clean up toxic sites is determined.  Mycoremediation is a viable option that appears to have little, if any, detrimental effect that should become part of our environmental protection strategy.



Sources: Mycelium Running: How mushrooms can help save the world, Stamets, 2005, Magical Mushrooms: Mycoremediation, Frost & Sullivan 2002, resilience.org, Chris Rhodes, mushroomsmountain.com/bioremediation, radicalmycology.com, epa.gov

Mycelium: Eco-friendly alternative to Styrofoam™

Fungi are such an important part of our ecosystem; it is hard to Myceliumimagine what the world would be like without the Fifth Kingdom.  A world devoid of fungi would be disastrous with matter and material not decomposing and thus accumulating on the surface of the earth.  Without fungi there would be no yeast, fundamental to the production of bread and alcohol, and no secondary metabolites produced as a result of their activities including plant growth hormones, steroids and industrial enzymes.  Fungi play a vital part in human lives quietly cleaning up our planet of toxic waste, supplying important nutrients to plants and trees and providing significant resources for the food and pharmaceutical industries.

As if that wasn’t enough, the mycelium from which mushrooms emerge may soon replace Styrofoam™ and become the new material for many of our packaging needs.  This form of packaging is plant-based, compostable and decomposes within 6-9 months as opposed to Styrofoam™, which is a petroleum-based product made of Styrene (a known health hazard) that makes up 30% of the world’s landfill.  Although we have the ability to recycle Styrofoam™, it is actually only “down cycled” into a lower grade, non-biodegradable product.

Ecovative Design, a company based in Green Island, New York is the world leader of packaging made from mycelium.  Their innovative processes and technology have grabbed the attention of several prominent and environmentally conscious companies including Dell computers, Crate and Barrel, Puma and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration who use mushroom® packaging for their electronics, furniture, SUP boards and DART-ETD systems respectively.

The company combines mycelium (the hair-like ‘roots’ from which mushrooms fruit) with agricultural waste, such as seed hulls and plant husks, and “grow” the mixture into predetermined shapes over a few days.  The forms are then heated to prevent further mycelium growth and spore production eliminating the possibility of allergens.  The shapes are currently custom made to protect wine bottles, electronics, furniture and paddle boards during transport though Ecovative Design is testing new applications such as construction boards and insulation as well as surfboard blanks and automotive parts.

No matter what the mycelium-based product applications become, what is important is that it is able to replace our need for Styrofoam™ and other plastic-based products.  We can thus collectively improve the impact we have on the environment by converting the packaging into mulch, by reducing our use of petroleum-based goods, and by decreasing the number of non-biodegradable products that go into our landfills.


Sources:  Ecovative Design, ecovativedesign.com, earthresource.org – Polystyrene foam report, PRI Living on earth, loe.org, March 2012.