Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Are Mushrooms the New Plastic?

To most people this cartoon just provides a good laugh by showing us an "exaggeration" of what we are doing to our planet and suggesting a radical idea that this could be a thing of the past.  However, this cartoon is truly touching on a serious issue that our country and world is facing today and trying to expose a truth that we can possibly prevent landfills the size of mountains. You may be wondering, "How?"

Well this was a question that was also sparked in the mind of Eben Bayer which in turn caused him to create something called Mycobond

It all started with Bayer's realization of what our world could look like in a thousand years if we continue disposing of trash that way that we have been for decades. He realized that the plastics we use today, which are require an absurd amount of energy to make, act as a poison to our Earth once they have fulfilled their purpose and make their way to the landfills which contributes the the future "Mount Landfill." He was especially concerned with styrofoam, which occupies about 20-25% of our landfills and uses an enormous about of energy for a piece of styrofoam that comes around your computer or a large television. Essentially, we are "throwing 1.5 liters of petrol away every time we get a package." 

He knew there had to be a better materials. These better matters he stated should follow three main principles, "Firstly they should be able to be created almost anywhere on the planet. Secondly, they should require considerably less energy to produce than current materials. Lastly, they should be able to be disposed of by nature's wonderful open-source recycling system." 

So, he did just that. He co-invented a product called Mycobond, which is a technology that uses filamentous fungi to transform agricultural waste products into strong composite materials. In simpler terms, stated by CNN, "They grind up seed husks and glue the small pieces together with mushroom root." With this creation they are able to make products that replace packaging and styrofoam, and are currently also working on a product that would act as a a rigid insulation board for builders. What is so great about these products is that they require less energy (actually 1/10th of the energy) to create than synthetics and when they are no longer need they can be home-composted or even used as garden mulch. For more information about how they accomplish this, please watch the video below. 

I feel that this product is unbelievably creative! Taking something that is farming waste and turning it into something that can help reduce waste in our landfills is an idea that the world hadn't thought of yet. I believe this fulfills the definition of creative because it has the two qualifications that we talked about in class, novel and appropriate. It is novel because this is something that had never been created or made, people had practically come to accept that "Mount Landfill" was unavoidable. It is also appropriate because it addresses the problem of our ever filling landfills and solves it by creating a product that is completely bio-degradable and doesn't even make it to landfills! 

I believe that this would fall into the category of "Big C" that we discussed in class. This is certainly a paradigm shift, creating a whole new use for something that had previous been waste and preventing more waste through the use of this "waste"! (See if you can follow that one.) It has the potential to completely change our culture by changing the products that we use and the way we dispose of our trash. Who would have ever imagined taking the packaging around our new plasma out in the yard to use it as mulch?

Eben Bayer's background illustrates the proces of "collecting" since each part of his background him allowed him to gather information about different things and motivations that allowed him to develop this product and to develop a passion for the product he ended up creating. Similar to what we discussed in class, he connected the information that he gathered through out his life in a structured way that lead his mind to create something extremely creative and world-changing. These experiences that allowed this to happen include him earning a dual B.S. degree in Mechanical Engineering and Product Design and Innovation from Renesselaer Polytechnic Institute. After this he worked at ARA designing humanitarian de-mining vehicles. His education and experience lead him down a path that engrained in him the desire to truly make a positive difference in the world, using the knowledge he had acquired through his education. 

Overall, the public seems to be in agreement with me. That this creative product has the potential to seriously change the world. People see the endless possibilities and unbelievable effects it could have on this planet. Some people, though, have an issue with it like they do with corn-based ethanol. There feeling is that using a food product for an eco-friendly invention only hurts the fact that their are millions of people in the world starving. However, this criticism is flawed because this product is not created from a food we would eat, but rather it is created from the waste of food we eat (corn husks). What this is made out of would provide us with no nutritional value and therefore does not add to the food shortage in parts of the world. Other than this main, unsupported argument, people are extremely supportive and excited about Eben's new creation! 

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