Fungi are the great recyclers of the Earth. They recycle waste. That’s what they do. They take it in it’s complex form and break it down into more simple forms. Some even produce delicous gourmet fruits along the way. Morel, Shiitake, Wine Cap, Oyster mushrooms – in the wild they all live on dead organic matter, waste. Whether it’s leaf litter, or dead wood, they have evolved incredible enzymes which break down the complex bonds in these materials to make use of them as their food, and ultimately to help them to produce Mushrooms from. In doing so, they also recycle these materials back into the soil for trees and plants to make use of again.
But the beauty of it is that some of the enzymes they have evolved to break down wood and leaf litter are capable of breaking down other organic wastes too. For example, many mushrooms are cultivated from straw – a huge ‘waste’ by-product of large scale agriculture. Others are fed on woodchips and sawdust, often produced by sawmills or from trees that have been trimmed.
Here at Fungi Futures, we have become interested in other forms of waste that mushrooms can live on. Cardboard for one is produced and used en-masse every single day – often it’s only used once before being discarded or sent for recycling into weaker and weaker cardboard of low value. Coming from trees originally, it’s makeup is similar to wood, and many mushrooms are able to eat it up – breaking it down and producing delicous gourmet edible protein along the way.
And then there is coffee waste. Something we are all familiar with. An estimated 80 millions cups a day drunk in the UK. And what hapens to the waste grounds? Most of it is put into black bags and thrown into landfill. Oyster Mushrooms, however, are a very versatile mushroom and can feed off of these tons of waste coffee grounds – converting it to rich compost and producing edible delights too.
Over the coming months we will look at other sources of waste and see what mushrooms we can grow from it. Ultimately, we think it is a crime to throw this waste away when high-value, nutritous, protein-rich food can be grown from it. It is a fact that we will not be farming so many animals in the future. The scale of our current methods are unsustainable for mulitple reasons (not least the amount of land, water & fertiliser required). So, we best start looking at alternative sources of protein…And not soya – this too requires vast land and resources.
What we do have though is truck loads of waste….and a method to convert it into tasty, healthy protein. The future will undoubtably involve more Mushrooms from Waste!