Czech start-up receives medal for biodegradable polystyrene substitute made from mushrooms

The founders of Myco: David Minařík, Martin Janča, Vladan Košut and Jan Ostrezi

Single-use plastic packaging contributes to landfill waste and microplastics in the oceans and drinking water. Small Czech firm Myco's mycelium-based packaging material offers a completely biodegradable alternative – and received recognition for it at this year's Energy Globe World Awards.

The fight against climate change can often feel hopeless. Too many actors, lack of coordination, competing interests, complex power structures and factors outside of an ordinary individual’s control – all these things and more can lead to feelings of ennui, resignation, and despair.

But the Energy Globe World Awards, held annually for the last 23 years, aims to counteract those feelings by honouring those who are working to come up with practical solutions to environmental problems. As Wolfgang Neumann, founder of the award, says, the solutions are already out there – it’s just a question of making people aware of and implementing them.

“We have said it already today – we’ve got more than 30 000 projects. I think for each environment problem that we have in our world, there is already a solution. We just have to show these solutions and motivate people to use them.”

At this year’s ceremony, held in Vienna last week, the winners were announced from 5 categories: Earth, Fire, Water, Air and Youth. And for the first time, a Czech project received recognition: a small start-up from the South Moravian town of Kyjov received an honorary medal in the Earth category.

Czech firm Myco Ltd produces 100% biodegradable packaging materials made from mushroom mycelium and organic waste such as sawdust, which can be used instead of polystyrene. The mushroom-based product naturally degrades when it comes into contact with moisture moisture and thus can be fully broken down and reabsorbed back into the soil.

Polystyrene is one of the worst offenders when it comes to unnecessary single-use plastic packaging. Bulky and non-degradable, it is also a big contributor to microplastics, which wash up in our oceans and wind up in our drinking water, harming human health as well as the environment. Due to their similar structures, formation options, elasticity and strength, foam polystyrene can be easily replaced by Myco’s product – without the environmental burden.

Photo: Myco

One of the originators of the idea, Jan Ostrezi, showed Czech Radio how the process of creating the packaging works. First, the organic waste is collected and poured into a big mixer. The mixture is then sterilised, and the resultant material is suitable for growing mycelium.

David Minařík, the other co-creator, elaborates:

“The mycelium functions as a kind of polymer or glue in the substrate. The substrate is composed of organic waste, sometimes also waste cardboard.”

After a month or two, the mycelium has grown sufficiently to be ground down and placed into a mould form for shaping into packaging. Finally, the product is dried. The whole process takes around two months.

Photo: Myco

The finished product can be used for gift packaging, boxes, and packing material for transporting wine bottles, for example. It can also make very good fertiliser.

And it is not just the mushrooms that are growing – next year the company will move to a bigger space and get some more powerful equipment. So with any luck, the idea will spread and be taken up in just the way that Wolfgang Neumann intended it when he founded the prize.