Mighty Mushrooms: How Fungi Fight Plastic & Pollution

Have you ever given thought to mushrooms, besides whether you want them served with your breakfast? It turns out that fungi are a bit of a phenomenon in the natural world; from “eating” plastic to absorbing carbon dioxide, they can seemingly do it all.

After watching the Netflix documentary, “Fantastic Fungi“, which we recently reviewed as part of our Green Tomatoes series, here are some of the weird and wonderful ways that mushrooms are being used to fight climate change. 

Eating plastic

Some mushrooms “eat” plastic, which can help to mitigate the waste crisis. In fact, the mushroom called Aspergillus tubingensis has the ability to grow directly on the surface of plastic and naturally break it down. 

mushroom in a forest
Source: Unsplash

Since 2017, at least 50 species of these plastic-munching mushrooms have been discovered. This opens up exciting opportunities for these mushrooms to tackle the ever-growing waste problem around the world. However, scaling the technology to the level needed would be extremely expensive.  

Creating bio-fabrics 

Fabric can be made from mushrooms’ lattice-like “roots” called mycelium, which are carbon-negative, water-proof and can be dyed in any colour naturally. Its production requires no fertilisers and very little water, making it an excellent environmentally friendly alternative. A cotton T-shirt typically requires over 3,200 litres of water, while a dress made from a type of mycelium fabric requires just 12!

Source: lululemon

Mycelium-based fabric can be made to be as hard as enamel or as soft as a sponge, depending on the amount of light, humidity and temperature, making it an incredibly versatile textile. It’s naturally antimicrobial too, making it incredibly sanitary. Brands like Hermes and Lululemon have already announced introducing mushroom-leather into their collections, so stay tuned for more brands to follow suit.

Protecting other plants

Mushrooms can be used in forestry, where they kill sickness in other plants, because they live off the bacteria that negatively impacts other plants. Also, the mycelia in mushrooms help plants grow bigger and stronger, by helping their roots reach water and nutrients further down in the soil. 

Source: Unsplash

You can use mushrooms in your herb gardens to encourage quicker growth; research has shown that tomato plants grown with certain mushrooms make the tomato-plants bigger and produce more fruit! 

Cleaning up pollution

As mentioned, mushrooms’ mycelium system helps to “anchor” soil and in doing so, helps the mushroom grow and find food and water. Remarkably, these mycelium can also cleanse pollutants from soil and water!

Since the mycelium is used to find nutrients and won’t stop until there are none left, it can eat its way through systems that are bad for the environment. For example, it can be put into a lake to clear up algae, or used in oil spills to break down hydrocarbons. Incredibly, mycelium also has the ability to absorb vast amounts of carbon dioxide, making it a novel although potentially life-saving solution for tackling climate change. 

If you haven’t yet watched “Fantastic Fungi,” we highly recommend doing so. Read our review for more information and stay tuned for more green film reviews coming up!

See also: 8 Plant-Based Foodies to Follow on Instagram