It’s no wonder that the race to find the most sustainable packaging option continues, and Swedish furniture mogul, IKEA, is running full speed. The company recently announced that it’s replacing all Styrofoam packaging with mushroom packaging—a compostable and biodegradable material.
In a world that’s not yet equipped to properly handle compostable packaging, we’d like to use this announcement as an opportunity to open the floor to a conversation about whether or not mushrooms are a viable solution. As IKEA’s Head of Sustainability states, the switch to mushroom packaging is a “small yet significant step towards reducing waste and conserving ecological balance.”
That might be true, but we hope it doesn’t serve as an excuse for other companies to follow suit and consequently miss other (potentially more practical) sustainable packaging solutions—especially before the verdict is in on mushroom packaging.
Mushroom packaging is exactly what it sounds like—packaging made of mushrooms.
Once all the spaces are filled, the final product is heated to the point where active spores are killed, ceasing mold growth. This whole process takes less than a week, making mushroom packaging a hot commodity.
Mushroom packaging claims the following environmental benefits.
We emphasize the word can because composability is very dependent on the disposal method. Claiming that a material can decompose in 30 days does not mean that if you simply throw it in your garden, it will decompose within that time frame. It requires specific conditions to decompose, which is why home composting and industrial composting are the most effective disposal methods.
Remember that both of these methods require very specific conditions to ensure success—high temperatures, diverse microorganisms, and availability. At this point, many home compost heaps don’t exist under prime conditions and most industrial composting facilities actually refuse compostable packaging such as mycelium.
It’s difficult to determine how long it will (not can) take for something to decompose in less-than-ideal conditions—such as the conditions in a landfill or on the side of the road. With that being said, companies that manufacture this packaging claim that it’s completely circular, litter-friendly, and adds no environmental burden if it ends up in a landfill.
As a furniture giant like IKEA transitions to mushroom packaging (and countless other companies take note), it’s important to ask ourselves if this material is fit for mass production and use.
Instead of jumping into sustainable “solutions” for mass packaging production that have not been tried and tested on an appropriate scale, we believe in talking about—and prioritizing—solutions that are proven to deliver the intended benefits.
We do not intend to criticize IKEA’s decision to transition to mushroom packaging. We believe mushroom packaging is a step in the right direction. We’d actually like to commend and celebrate IKEA’s work in the world of sustainable packaging. After all, they’ve reduced their packaging volume by 50% over the last few years, and we believe that deserves to be a spotlight story and point of aspiration for those who view IKEA as a role model in the realm of sustainability.
As always, we believe that packaging requires a very individualized approach. While mushroom packaging could be an acceptable solution in an ideal world, we want everyone to be wary of using it as an excuse to follow big names like IKEA—instead of analyzing and discovering alternative solutions that might work better for your company and its consumers.