Fungi Mutarium turns waste plastic
into edible treats

| 21 comments

Austria-based Livin Studio has created a process to cultivate edible fungi that digests plastic as it grows (+ movie).

The aim of Livin Studio's project is to use commonly uneaten parts of fungi to break down plastic while simultaneously producing a novelty food product.



First presented in Eindhoven last week, the Fungi Mutarium incubator was created as a prototype to grow the edible fungi around the plastic, breaking down and digesting the material as it develops.

Fungi Mutarium by Katharina Unger

They began working with two widely consumed types of fungus: Pleurotus Ostreatus, more commonly known as Oyster Mushroom and found on Western supermarket shelves, and Schizophyllum Commune, colloquially named Split Gill that is eaten in Asia, Africa and Mexico.

Fungi Mutarium by Katharina Unger

"We mainly cultivated the 'mycelium' rather than the typical 'mushroom' fruit bodies," Livin Studio founder Katharina Unger told Dezeen. "Both fungi show characteristics to digest waste material while remaining edible biomass."

Fungi Mutarium by Katharina Unger

Mycelium is the propagating part of a fungus and grows in masses of thread-like structures.

Fungi Mutarium by Katharina Unger

The cultures are grown within egg-shaped pods made from agar – a gelatinous substance derived from seaweed – to simulate the natural surfaces that the fungi traditionally grows on.

Fungi Mutarium by Katharina Unger

Plastic is placed within the pods along with diluted mycelium cultures – which are stored in a holding tank on one side and delivered into each agar case via a large pipette.

These cultures develop over the agar as they slowly digest the waste material, filling the space inside the pod.

Fungi Mutarium by Katharina Unger

While the process takes place, the pods are left in a "growth sphere" covered by transparent domed structure to regulate humidity levels. The plastic "food" for the fungi is sterilised with UV light in a compartment underneath.

Fungi Mutarium by Katharina Unger

"It can take several months until the plastic is fully digested by the fungi," said Unger, who has previously designed a table-top insect breeding farm for producing edible fly larvae at home.

Fungi Mutarium by Katharina Unger

"This is the part of the project that is still ongoing research. Our research partner [Utrecht University] expects that the digestion will go much quicker once processes are fully researched and optimised."

Fungi Mutarium by Katharina Unger

For the prototype, the domes are placed within a table top so they can be monitored and viewed.

Fungi Mutarium by Katharina Unger

"We imagined it as being used with a community or small farm setting," Unger told Dezeen. "Our setup with the two domes being placed in a table-like structure is more of a presentation setup. The domes can be separated, so that they can be easily replicated and placed on a shelf to be grown in masses."

Fungi Mutarium by Katharina Unger

Once the samples are fully grown, the agar pods (FU) and their contents are removed and ready to consume.

Fungi Mutarium by Katharina Unger

"Pleurotus varies from very mild to very strong, sometimes described as sweet with the smell of anise or liquorice," explained Unger, who worked with designer Julia Kaisinger on the project. "Texture and flavour depend a lot on the strain."

Fungi Mutarium by Katharina Unger
Click for larger image

"Schizophyllum is known to have a rather tough texture, which is harder to acquire for Western cultures," she added. "We found the taste to be rather neutral."

The team came up with a recipe to create flavoured FU, which can then be used with other ingredients as part of a meal once fully developed.

Fungi Mutarium by Katharina Unger
Click for larger image

For eating the produce, they also designed a range of specialised cutlery items. The Moon Spoon allows the user to scrape the tiny fungi from the FU, while the Round Chops are used like chopsticks to pass the pods from one diner to another.

The Hollknife has a tube through its centre, so it can cut up the soft shell and act as a straw to suck up the contents.

Fungi Mutarium by Katharina Unger
Click for larger image

The cutlery designs were received so well by members of the public that they plan to launch a Kickstarter campaign to fund their production early next year.

"Initially, the cutlery was specifically designed to eat the fungi with it," said Unger. "However, we got great feedback on the cutlery and we find that it can be used with common food culture today as well."

The utensils will eventually be produced in metal or ceramics, but currently exist as plastic prototypes.

Photography is by Paris Tsitsos.

  • ivan.capitani

    I’ll stick to fish and chips. You can have this stuff all for yourself.

  • Therese

    What are you afraid of? With so much plastic waste in the world I’m sure fungus is more nutritious than your fish and chips…

    • ivan.capitani

      Again, you can have it all for yourself if you like. I’m not afraid, I’m just not interested. That thing doesn’t make me want to eat it at all. As for me, *bites into a steak and guacamole wrap with shiitake mushrooms and chilli* no fungus can ever replace traditional food.

      The thought of eating beef kofta curry with fluffy rice, beans and peas makes me drool, but the “food” shown above doesn’t. And by the way, to those who think that this could end hunger in the world, I would suggest that perhaps less greed and waste would. My two cents. : )

  • Hmmmm

    Gorgeous design and very provocative. I am surprised that the fungi does not contain toxins from the plastic though. What are the larger implications for this. For example, fungi for bioremediation in waste dumps full of plastic?

  • Bo

    Wait. They turned plastic into food?! How is this not major news?

    • Anna Csillag

      The fact that they are making cutlery from metal and plastic seems to be counterproductive. Are they saying it doesn’t matter if you make something plastic because now we have mushrooms that can feed on them?

      Not sure mushrooms would want that, to feed on plastic? Also, UV-light requires fossil fuels to run – and metal cutlery, unless they will be recycled metal cutlery, requires mining.

      So how sustainable is all this ultimately? The article probably didn’t do the designers justice since it did not think of these questions which need to be answered before this is worthy of being major news!

      • Karen Glammeyer Medcoff

        UV-light can be run from sustainable energy production sources. The bulbs on the other hand…

        • Anna Csillag

          But sustainable energy resources are made using non-sustainable resources…

          • Karen Glammeyer Medcoff

            When people start using sustainable resources, it saves the unsustainable ones. You can’t have a perfect energy source. It’s just not possible, but the impact we make now helps to save the future.

          • Karen Glammeyer Medcoff

            I forgot to add. The new ways of creating things using hemp will help a LOT. It can be used for so many different things, and it is sustainable, which is why it should have never been made illegal.

  • Kate

    This could end hunger in the world.

  • Concerned Citizen

    Does it taste like steak and potatoes?

  • Anam

    For the ones out there which did not get it yet…
    This is just a narrative, not a real scientific research.

    Could this maybe become a real possibility in the future? I really hope so, but it’s not there yet!

    It could be very tricky and misleading, when not communicated honestly and properly. Beware of the difference between reality and speculation.

  • Reggie Jenkins

    We’ve got an IndieGoGo campaign related to getting plastic-eating fungi into the hands of every day amateur mycologists for science!

    https://www.indiegogo.com/projects/pestalotiopsis-microspora-community-culture/x/8976558

    • Matt C

      Reggie, how can we get in contact with you? The email on the indiegogo page isn’t working for you?

  • Hunter Greene

    I can’t imagine the toxins just going away and the fungi being edible. I’m no scientist, but to me this seems like biological alchemy. Also, I find the pictures strangely disturbing.

    It looks like she just got out of bed and is checking her fungi, and potentially eating them naked. Not that I have a problem with nude fungi consumption, but it’s almost too much art and not enough science.

  • MeissnerFlux .

    So now we get to eat components of plastic. Great. I’ll pass.

  • Jon

    Amateur fungus farmers usually only ever make ONE mistake.

  • Snowy

    I was wondering about that.

  • toni

    Eating the plastic should not be a big thing. Even if you can’t digest it, you’ll just poop it out as is. It would be more interesting if the mushrooms neutralised plasticisers.