So I'm sat in an LGA EEHT Board meeting (don't ask) and the matter under discussion is waste management. You know about this stuff as it has been all over the telly - bans on straws, the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, those pesky Chinese saying they won't take our rubbish any more, and hand-wringing greens tutting about our sinful consumer lifestyles. We're listening to a report about technology, waste streams and something called the "circular economy". I have to tell you it isn't gripping but that, since we're all councillors, the matter of collecting, recycling and disposing of the rubbish we all produce is a core part of what we do - local councils empty the bins.
Funny thing is that all I could think of was mushrooms. And I regret not raising the subject at the meeting since, as you all should know, fungi contain the salvation for our planet including dealing with pollution:
Certain species, such as the oyster mushroom, produce enzymes that digest the hydrocarbons in petroleum. Some can absorb heavy metals like mercury and even digest polyurethane plastics. Scientists are also experimenting to see if certain types of fungi might be able to absorb radiation after nuclear disasters.Yet in all the meetings, the reports, the debates on waste the matter of mushrooms never arises. I wonder why?
...cultivating the right type of mushroom on soiled nappies can break down 90% of the material they are made of within two months. Within four, they are degraded completely. What is more, she says, despite their unsavoury diet the fungi in question, Pleurotus ostreatus (better known as oyster mushrooms), are safe to eat. To prove the point she has, indeed, eaten them.
Fungi Mutarium is a prototype that grows edible fungal biomass, mainly the mycelium, as a novel food product. Fungi is cultivated on specifically designed agar shapes that the designers called "FU". Agar is a seaweed based gelatin substitute and acts, mixed with starch and sugar, as a nutrient base for the fungi. The "FUs" are filled with plastics. The fungi is then inserted, it digests the plastic and overgrows the whole substrate. The shape of the "FU" is designed so that it holds the plastic and to offer the fungi a lot of surface to grow on.
Several organisms demonstrated the ability to efficiently degrade PUR (synthetic polymer polyester polyurethane) in both solid and liquid suspensions. Particularly robust activity was observed among several isolates in the genus Pestalotiopsis, although it was not a universal feature of this genus. Two Pestalotiopsis microspora isolates were uniquely able to grow on PUR as the sole carbon source under both aerobic and anaerobic conditions.
By feeding agricultural waste to Mycelium (the webs of thread-like mushroom roots) under correct conditions, the waste is turned into a material that can be moulded into any shape, having similar properties to Styrofoam – a polymer-based material made from Polystyrene.Mushrooms can be used to clean up oil spills, accelerate landfill decomposition, as a structural base for lightweight panels, and as a means to extract rare minerals from trash. Yet there seems to be little or no significant research into the commercialisation of these systems. I may be that they don't scale up but I suspect that waste managers - including councils - don't want to be the first to say "we're going to grow oyster mushrooms on our landfill" because they're worried everyone would point and laugh.