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Growing a Replacement for Styrofoam
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Growing a Replacement for Styrofoam


Today a unique company called Ecovative has developed a replacement for environmentally threatening polystyrene—known commonly as Styrofoam—for an ever-widening range of applications. The incredible part: the material is grown, not manufactured, and actually provides nutrients to the land when disposed of.

A Mixed Blessing

When polystyrene was invented, it revolutionized the packing industry. Extremely lightweight, cheap and capable of being produced in endless forms, Styrofoam meant materials that added almost zero weight to packages yet firmly protected contents. It has also found uses in food and beverage containers, automotive noise reduction components, and countless other areas.

The downside was and is that Styrofoam has become an eyesore along highways, on beaches and in just about any semiwild space. Even when it is properly disposed of in trash receptacles, Styrofoam is slow to biodegrade and, like its cousin, plastic, seems to remain with us endlessly.

A Grown Replacement

The idea for the natural replacement of these environmentally aggravating materials had its inspiration, for Ecovative co-founder Eben Bayer, all the way back in his boyhood. “I grew up on a family farm in rural Vermont, where I spent 17 years with hands-on learning about agriculture,” Bayer told Organic Connections. “One of my responsibilities growing up was to shovel woodchips into the gasifier that produced maple syrup on our farms. Sometimes there would be clumps stuck together by little white strands. I later learned that these tenacious fibers were mycelium—the vegetative growth stage (kind of like the roots) of fungi. The mycelium was self-assembling into a natural glue.”

Bayer never forgot his observation. “After farm-life training, I went to RPI [Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute] and got a degree in mechanical engineering and design and innovation,” Bayer continued. “It was the combination of these two influences that led to the spark that grew into Ecovative.


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