Designers Grow Edible Fungus Out of Plastic Garbage

Livin Studio // © Paris Tsitsos 2014
Livin Studio // © Paris Tsitsos 2014 / Livin Studio // © Paris Tsitsos 2014

We’ve got a plastic problem. In 2012 alone, Americans produced 32 million tons of it and recycled only about 9 percent. Each year we create more and more, and it’s piling up fast. One Austrian design firm has come up with a way to chip away at the mountains of plastic, one meal at a time: the Fungi Mutarium, a product that helps garbage spark food growth.

Designers Katharina Unger and Julia Kaisinger of Livin Studio collaborated with microbiologist Han Wösten, whose work has focused on fungi’s plastic-digesting abilities.

“We wanted to work with material that has not or only little been considered as food so far,” the designers said. While fungus is a common food source all over the world, most cultures eat only the fruiting body (that’s the mushroom, truffle, or other fleshy part). But fungi also have root-like filaments called mycelia that absorb nutrients. Unger and Kaisinger wondered if they could make the mycelia into a food source.

The result of their experiments was the Fungi Mutarium, a device that converts garbage into edible mycelia. The mycelia are grown inside edible agar cups, which the designers named FUs. A Mutarium user will place a piece of sterilized plastic inside the FU, then add a few drops of fungal spores with a pipette. After a week or two, the FU will be completely covered in mycelia.

You can watch the process in the video below:

Fungi Mutarium: Prototype from LIVIN Studio on Vimeo.

The Mutarium produces two commonly eaten species of fungus: Pleurotus ostreatus, or the oyster mushroom, can be found on American supermarket shelves, and Schizophyllum commune, the split gill mushroom, is more popular in China, India, Mexico, and parts of Africa. “We found the taste to be neutral,” the designers noted.

They’ve since invented special utensils and recipes for preparing and eating the resulting FU growths.

Agar FU with mycelia, caviar, and seaweed.

The Mutarium is still in its prototype stage. While the plastic does degrade in the FU, the process is very slow, lasting months—a timeline the designers hope to shorten in future versions.

Images and video courtesy of Livin Studio // © Paris Tsitsos 2014