Mushrooms. You can stuff them, fry them, or slice them onto pizzas. They can serve as homes for fairies or perches for toads. In Super Mario Bros., they can be friend or foe. And someday they might be part of…car seats?
This month, my son is studying fungus. I have to admit I was less than thrilled with this prospect, but what I have read with him has proven fascinating. Besides having learned about fungal spores that turn ants into zombies, I also discovered Ecovative, a company that makes a Styrofoam-like product entirely out of plant matter and mushroom roots.
To make this product, called EcoCradle, they take agricultural plant waste (like oat or rice hulls) and pour it into a mold. They infuse it with mushroom roots, and let them grow around the plant matter. About a week later, they stop the growth process (before mushrooms or spores can develop) and voila! You have a completely natural, biodegradable, petroleum-free alternative to EPS or EPP foam.
There are companies already using EcoCradle to ship their products and others investigating its use. Dell uses it to ship some of its hard drives, and Ford is looking at it to replace 30 pounds of petroleum-based foam in its cars–including the bumper. That’s no small potatoes! Er, mushrooms.
Although technically not a foam, EcoCradle has similar energy-absorbing properties. It’s also fire-resistant and VOC-free.
Of course that got me to wondering if the EPS or EPP foam commonly found in car seats could be replaced with EcoCradle. After all, car seats are essentially large chunks of plastic and foam, with a limited lifespan. They need to be tossed after 5-10 years, or even sooner if crashed. With car seat recycling programs few and far between, most car seats wind up languishing in landfills. Wouldn’t it be nice if even a small part of the seat could leave a smaller impact on the environment? (And unlike plant-based plastics that usually require a special commercial-grade composter to break down, EcoCradle will biodegrade in a garden or landfill.)
I know what you’re thinking: If it breaks down so easily, is it really a good choice for car seats, which are often subject to apple juice spills and potty training accidents?
EcoCradle can withstand tropical shipping conditions, but I asked a company representative about moisture concerns in a car seat. He said that a waterproof barrier would probably be necessary because, like with wood, moisture will eventually absorb into the material. So there are a few kinks to work out.
The rep said they haven’t explored car seats as an application, but said it could feasibly work. So if any car seat manufacturers are reading this, I think it would be awesome to look into mushrooms as the potential for a greener car-seat future.
In the meantime, I’m going to design a bike helmet lined with EcoCradle. The product’s name? Mushroom Cap.