There aren’t too many products that feel the need to reassure you that they are, in fact, packaging. EcoCradle is an exception. As I opened the parcel, generously sent to me by Ecovative marketing department, I caught a faint scent of honey seasoned cereal. Definitely not your usual sterile polystyrene whiff.
The madness started at the Biomimicry Education Summit in Cleveland. To be even more precise – with Dorna Schroeter pouring out samples of really cool products on to the table in the conference room of Botanical Gardens. EcoCradle packaging wasn’t one of them, but the whole lunchtime biomaterial orgy gave me an idea for the upcoming Undergraduate Biomimicry Challenge. Instead of simply showing the students a powerpoint presentation filled with rockstar examples, such as WhalePower wind turbines, or sea sponge solar cells, why not spice it up with real examples they can touch and test right there in a classroom?
Industrial designers are used to hands-on workshops and charrettes. There is a reason why we are said to have been found lying under the table – not because we are drunk, but because we are looking at how the legs are attached to the tabletop.
As soon as I returned to Ottawa, I started dialling numbers and firing off emails to companies that might be interested in sending me some of their material samples. And, ta-da! my first sample has arrived in the mail yesterday, smelling of fresh steel-cut oats.
Touching and smelling the right specimen made me want to put it in the toaster, smear it with apricot jam, and devour it for lunch. Feeling the left specimen made me want to go at it with a sandpaper and an X-acto knife.
My mother always says about cosmetics, “do not put it on your face, if you are not prepared to eat it”, I’m starting to think this phrase could be extended toward food packaging as well. I mean, I try to eat things that are biodegradable, but the fact that we already have a certain percentage of styrene lodged in our systems is an alarming one.
The EPA National Human Adipose Tissue Survey for 1986 identified styrene residues in 100% of all samples of human fat tissue taken in 1982 in the US.
For now, EcoCradle is mostly used for packaging electronics, but I would be most interested in how safe it is for packaging food. John Warner made an interesting point during his presentation – Carl Hastrich expanded on in his blog Bouncing Ideas – that replacements must be found before bans can be enforced. So, before California bans another polystyrene take-out container, why not start creating the new that can fully replace the old with some benefits thrown in?
Agricultural Waste + Fungal Mycelium = EcoCradle Packaging
I visited my friend the other day – an Italian architect and musician Vincenzo Pagliaro – who kindly let me play the drums, handcrafted from a beautiful exotic wood. As I was drumming away unskilfully, I thought of an article I read about acoustic properties of mushrooms.
By using two filamentous fungi, Physiporinus vitrius and Xylaria longipes, Schwarze was able to selectively decompose wood cells from the inside thereby forever altering the wood’s acoustic properties. The fungi also opened up the cytosolic membranes of these dead cells – a feature that allowed sound to more easily penetrate the wood. Rhonheimer then did what he does best – he made a sensational instrument.
My mind started racing about future applications of wood particles and fungal mycelium in speakers, theatre ceiling tiles, and other products needing exceptional acoustic properties. My goal is to bring the sample into the classroom and see how many other equations students can get by exploring EcoCradle’s properties.