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IKEA Plans to Ditch Toxic Polystyrene for Biodegradable Mushroom Packaging

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IKEA is planning to switch up their packaging in an effort to slash waste and increase recycling. The Swedish furniture giant is in talks to replace its polystyrene packaging with biodegradable fungus, The Telegraph reported.

Ecovative's Mushroom Packaging uses mushroom roots and recycled farm waste to create packaging. Photo credit: Evocative

"We are looking for innovative alternatives to materials, such as replacing our polystyrene packaging with mycelium-fungi packaging," Joanna Yarrow, head of sustainability for IKEA in the UK, told The Telegraph.

The retailer is reportedly considering Evocative Design's compostable and biodegradable Mushroom Packaging that's made of mycelium (basically the root structure of mushrooms) and agricultural waste such as corn husks and stalks.

According to the Albany Times Union, IKEA goes through 7,400 truckloads of expanded polystyrene foam annually to package its flatpacks of furniture.

Non-biodegradable, petroleum-based polystyrene—which you might know under its trade name, Styrofoam—is difficult to recycle, meaning this No. 6 plastic often ends up in the landfill.

Unlike traditional styrofoam packaging such as fast food containers and packing peanuts, Mushroom Packaging naturally biodegrades in a compost or backyard in a few weeks.

As EcoWatch reported, Mushroom Materials provides protective packaging to ship a range of products from wines to furniture delicate electronics.

To create a solid structure, the fungus fibers and waste bind together over the course of a few days. The materials are then dried to stop growth and prevent it from producing mushrooms or spores.

"The great thing about mycelium is you can grow it into a mold that then fits exactly. You can create bespoke packaging," Yarrow said at a recent Aldersgate Group sustainability event in London.

IKEA is looking at introducing the climate friendly product packaging because "a lot of products come in polystyrene, traditionally, which can’t be—or is very difficult to—recycle," Yarrow said.

The New York-based biomaterials company works with companies such Dell and Crate & Barrel. The material is also being used to make surfboards and drones.

Mushroom Materials are cost competitive with plastic foams at volume, the company says. According to Marketplace, Evocative can keep prices down "because it doesn't rely on fossil fuels to produce materials. It doesn't have an expensive factory, just molds that hold the Myco Foam while it hardens."

An IKEA spokesman confirmed to The Telegraph that they were working with Evocative.

"IKEA wants to have a positive impact on people and planet, which includes taking a lead in turning waste into resources, developing reverse material flows for waste materials and ensuring key parts of our range are easily recycled," the spokesman said.

“IKEA has committed to take a lead in reducing its use of fossil–based materials while increasing its use of renewable and recycled materials.”

An Ecovative spokeswoman told The Albany Times Union there has been no formal announcement regarding a partnership with IKEA.

"Ecovative does not discuss partnerships prior to joint announcements," she said.

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Protestors marched outside the Prudential Center in Newark, New Jersey on Monday, August 26, during the MTV Video and Music Awards to bring attention to the water crisis currently gripping the city. Karla Ann Cote / NurPhoto / Getty Images

By Will Sarni

It is far too easy to view scarcity and poor quality of water as issues solely affecting emerging economies. While the images of women and children fetching water in Africa and a lack of access to water in India are deeply disturbing, this is not the complete picture.

The city of Flint, Michigan, where dangerous levels of pollutants contaminated the municipal water supply, is a case in point — as is, more recently, the city of Newark, New Jersey.

The Past is No Longer a Guide to the Future

We get ever closer to "day zeros" — the point at when municipal water supplies are switched off — and tragedies such as Flint. These are not isolated stories. Instead they are becoming routine, and the public sector and civil society are scrambling to address them. We are seeing "day zeros" in South Africa, India, Australia and elsewhere, and we are now detecting lead contamination in drinking water in cities across the U.S.

"Day zero" is the result of water planning by looking in the rear-view mirror. The past is no longer a guide to the future; water demand has outstripped supplies because we are tied to business-as-usual planning practices and water prices, and this goes hand-in-hand with the inability of the public sector to factor the impacts of climate change into long-term water planning. Lead in drinking water is the result of lead pipe service lines that have not been replaced and in many cases only recently identified by utilities, governments and customers. An estimated 22 million people in the US are potentially using lead water service lines. This aging infrastructure won't repair or replace itself.

One of the most troubling aspects of the global water crisis is that those least able to afford access to water are also the ones who pay a disproportionately high percentage of their income for it. A report by WaterAid revealed that a standard water bill in developed countries is as little as 0.1 percent of the income of someone earning the minimum wage, while in a country like Madagascar a person reliant on a tanker truck for their water supply would spend as much as 45 percent of their daily income on water to get just the recommended daily minimum supply. In Mozambique, families relying on black-market vendors will spend up to 100 times as much on water as those reached by government-subsidized water supplies.

Finally, we need to understand that the discussion of a projected gap between supply and demand is misleading. There is no gap, only poor choices around allocation. The wealthy will have access to water, and the poor will pay more for water of questionable quality. From Flint residents using bottled water and paying high water utility rates, to the poor in South Africa waiting in line for their allocation of water — inequity is everywhere.

Water Inequity Requires Global Action — Now.

These troubling scenarios beg the obvious question: What to do? We do know that ongoing reports on the 'water crisis' are not going to catalyze action to address water scarcity, poor quality, access and affordability. Ensuring the human right to water feels distant at times.

We need to mobilize an ecosystem of stakeholders to be fully engaged in developing and scaling solutions. The public sector, private sector, NGOs, entrepreneurs, investors, academics and civil society must all be engaged in solving water scarcity and quality problems. Each stakeholder brings unique skills, scale and speed of impact (for example, entrepreneurs are fast but lack scale, while conversely the public sector is slow but has scale).

We also urgently need to change how we talk about water. We consistently talk about droughts happening across the globe — but what we are really dealing with is an overallocation of water due to business-as-usual practices and the impacts of climate change.

We need to democratize access to water data and actionable information. Imagine providing anyone with a smartphone the ability to know, on a real-time basis, the quality of their drinking water and actions to secure safe water. Putting this information in the hands of civil society instead or solely relying on centralized regulatory agencies and utilities will change public policies.

Will Sarni is the founder and CEO of Water Foundry.

Note: This post also appears on the World Economic Forum.

Reposted with permission from our media associate Circle of Blue.

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