Sustainable food packaging hub launches in Wales

Read the full story at Food Manufacture.

A sustainable food packaging hub is being established at the Advanced Manufacturing Research Centre Cymru (AMRC Cymru) in Broughton, Wales with a £2m financial investment from the Welsh Government.

Vegan leather made from mushrooms could mould the future of sustainable fashion


by Mitchell P. Jones (Vienna University of Technology)

Seven millennia since its invention, leather remains one of the most durable and versatile natural materials. However, some consumers question the ethical ramifications and environmental sustainability of wearing products sourced from animals.

This shift in social standards is the main reason we’re seeing a wave of synthetic substitutes heading for the market.

Leather alternatives produced from synthetic polymers fare better in terms of environmental sustainability and have achieved considerable market share in recent years.

But these materials face the same disposal issues as any synthetic plastic. So, the leather market has begun to look to other innovations. As strange as it might sound, the latest contender is the humble fungus.

Research by my colleagues and I, published today in Nature Sustainability, investigates the history, manufacturing processes, cost, sustainability and material properties of fungus-derived renewable leather substitutes – comparing them to animal and synthetic leathers.

How unsustainable is animal leather, actually?

How sustainable leather is depends on how you look at it. As it uses animal skins, typically from cows, leather production is correlated with animal farming. Making it also requires environmentally toxic chemicals.

The livestock sector’s sustainability issues are well known. According to the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation, the sector is responsible for about 14% of all greenhouse emissions from human activity. Cattle rearing alone represents about 65% of those emissions.

Still, it’s worth noting the main product of cattle rearing is meat, not leather. Cow hides account for just 5-10% of the market value of a cow and about 7% of the animal’s weight.

There’s also no proven correlation between the demand for red meat and leather. So a reduction in the demand for leather may have no effect on the number of animals slaughtered for meat.

Cattle looking at the camera
According to 2019 figures from the Australian Bureau of Statistics, about 49% of all Australian farms carry beef cattle and these manage more than 79% of all agricultural land.

That said, leather tanning is still energy- and resource-intensive and produces a lot of sludge waste during processing.

This gives leather a higher environmental impact than other minimally processed animal products such as blood, heads and organs (which can be sold as meat products or animal feed).

From spore to mat

Fungus-derived leather technologies were first patented by US companies MycoWorks and Ecovative Design about five years ago.

These technologies take advantage of the root-like structure of mushrooms, called mycelium, which contains the same polymer found in crab shells.

A root-like mycelium structure grows underground.
Mycelium is the vegetative body for fungi that produces mushrooms. Fungal colonies made of mycelium can be found in and on soil and wood. Shutterstock

When mushroom roots are grown on sawdust or agricultural waste, they form a thick mat that can then be treated to resemble leather.

Because it’s the roots and not the mushrooms being used, this natural biological process can be carried out anywhere. It does not require light, converts waste into useful materials and stores carbon by accumulating it in the growing fungus.

A petri dish with fungal spores on the left and a natural fungal mat on the right.
Going from fungal spores on a Petri dish (left) to a natural fungal mat (right) takes just a couple of weeks. Antoni Gandia

Going from a single spore to a finished “fungi leather” (or “mycelium leather”) product takes a couple of weeks, compared with years required to raise a cow to maturity.

Mild acids, alcohols and dyes are typically used to modify the fungal material, which is then compressed, dried and embossed.

The process is quite simple and can be completed with minimal equipment and resources by artisans. It can also be industrially scaled for mass production. The final product looks and feels like animal leather and has similar durability.

Mycelium-derived leather hanging from wire
MOGU is one company producing materials and products from fungal mycelium. Ars Electronica/Flickr, CC BY-NC-ND

Mushroom for progress

It’s important to remember despite years of development, this technology is still in its infancy. Traditional leather production has been refined to perfection over thousands of years.

There are bound to be some teething problems when adopting fungal leather. And despite its biodegradability and low-energy manufacturing, this product alone won’t be enough to solve the sustainability crisis.

There are wider environmental concerns over animal farming and the proliferation of plastics – both of which are independent of leather production.

Nonetheless, using creativity to harness new technologies can only be a step in the right direction. As the world continues its gradual shift towards sustainable living, perhaps seeing progress in one domain will inspire hope for others.

Will I be wearing it anytime soon?

Commercial products made with fungi-derived leather are expected to be on sale soon – so the real question is whether it will cost you an arm and a leg.

Prototypes were released last year in the US, Italy and Indonesia, in products including watches, purses, bags and shoes.

A black and brown mycelium leather bag.
US-based startup Bolt Threads has used myceliym leather to successfully create products such as this bag. Bolt Threads

And while these fundraiser items were a little pricey – with one designer bag selling for US$500 – manufacturing cost estimates indicate the material could become economically competitive with traditional leather once manufactured on a larger scale.

The signs are promising. MycoWorks raised US$17 million in venture capital last year.

Ultimately, there’s no good reason fungal leather alternatives couldn’t eventually replace animal leather in many consumer products.

So next time you pass the mushrooms at the supermarket, make sure you acquaint yourself. You may be seeing a whole lot more of each other soon.

Mitchell P. Jones, Postdoctoral researcher, Vienna University of Technology

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Using Measurement Tools to Reduce Food Waste and Drive Prevention

Read the full story at Waste360.

The idea of tackling the nationwide problem of food waste can be overwhelming and has many people asking how they can help and what can they do? During the Waste360 Food Recovery Forum online on Tuesday, September 15, several industry experts were there to help provide some answers.

In the session, Advances in Wasted Food Policy and Practices; Using Measurement Tools to Reduce Food Waste and Drive Prevention, representatives from the Natural Resource Defense Council (NRDC), the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), Leanpath, and Winnow all share different ways to measure food waste and increase prevention.

NETL-supported collaboration develops flexible rare earth element extraction method from low-rank coal ash

With support from NETL, researchers from the University of North Dakota (UND) and Pacific Northwest National Laboratory (PNNL) identified unique pathways and pretreatments to extract rare earth elements (REEs) from low-rank coal (LRC) ash in a more economical and environmentally sustainable manner that can be adjusted to meet variable conditions.

LRCs, such as lignites, are one of the most abundant fossil fuel sources in the world.  NETL-supported project with UND and PNNL researchers has shown that the ash from LRCs can be a potentially viable source of REEs.

The research team conducted an extensive characterization effort to understand the form, associations and partitioning of the REEs along with other relevant elements and minerals in the fly ash samples, as well as the ash chemistry, mineralogy and morphology. Understanding these intricacies was a vital step in developing the method for extraction and recovery of the contained LCR REEs.

Using ash samples collected from a combination of full-scale power generation stations and pilot-scale combustion systems employed at UND, the researchers achieved the goal of producing a mixed REE concentrate greater than 2% by weight, a step forward on the road to securing a financially viable domestic market for these vital materials used to manufacture of computer components, cell phones, satellites, defense applications, and renewable energy technologies, among others.

The LRC ash-based method developed by the UND and PNNL offers an advantage in flexibility. The process can be adjusted to adapt to the differing ash chemical and physical properties characteristic of the LRC ash. This is an important trait considering that all ash materials can be different and require specific extraction processes. This research development means different characteristics in varying ashes can be accommodated in REE extraction operations. 

“NETL supports several research projects throughout the nation with the goal of finding affordable ways to obtain the rare earth elements we need to keep our economy going,” said Anthony Zinn, NETL project manager. “The extraction method developed at UND offers a degree of flexibility which may make it attractive for potential users in the future, allowing the economy to grow while also disposing of fly ash from our existing coal-based power plant fleet.”

Furthermore, the researchers determined that if higher levels of REEs were in the initial LRC ash, the process can be economically viable even without further optimization so long as additional high-value metals or critical minerals are recovered as well. They also discovered that a simple water wash pretreatment on the samples can reduce the required amounts of acid for initial REE extraction from lignite ash. Reduced acid use has the bonus of reducing costs and the environmental impact while also improving work site safety.

This development came as part of an NETL-funded cooperative agreement intended to develop a domestic supply chain for REEs, which are vital to the manufacturing of personal electronics, energy infrastructure and defense technologies, among many other high-tech applications.

NETL is a U.S. Department of Energy national laboratory that produces technological solutions for America’s energy challenges. From developing creative innovations and efficient energy systems that make coal more competitive, to advancing technologies that enhance oil and natural gas extraction and transmission processes, NETL research is providing breakthroughs and discoveries that support domestic energy initiatives, stimulate a growing economy, and improve the health, safety, and security of all Americans. Highly skilled men and women at NETL’s sites in Albany, Oregon; Anchorage, Alaska; Houston, Texas; Morgantown, West Virginia; and Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania conduct a broad range of research activities that support DOE’s mission to advance the national, economic, and energy security of the United States.

Nestle, Unilever, Royal DSM back economic ‘reset’ under EU Green Deal

Read the full story in Food Navigator.

Around 30 European companies, including Nestle and Unilever, have backed a joint statement issued in support of the European Green Deal laying out the region’s ambitions to move towards net zero carbon emissions.

Lego plans to scrap plastic bags and make more ‘bio bricks’

Read the full story at CNBC.

The Lego Group is planning to invest as much as $400 million across three years in order to “accelerate sustainability and social responsibility initiatives.”

The company’s plans, announced Tuesday, are wide-ranging and cover a number of areas. Among other things, the toy-making giant said it would look to phase out single-use plastic bags in its products by 2025, with a trial of recyclable paper bags taking place next year.

In addition, the cash will be used to develop more sustainable bricks and packaging, with the family-owned firm looking to increase its use of so-called “bio bricks” made from materials like sugar cane. Research into the development of sustainable plastics made from renewable and recycled sources will also continue.

KC Parks Department Plants Seeds of Savings With New Sustainability Plan

Read the full post at Flatland.

Driving east along Gregory Boulevard in Kansas City, Missouri, the urban streetscape gives way to Swope Park’s rustic Rocky Point glade in the blink of an eye.

This wooded expanse off Oldham Road looks much like it has for centuries, predating European settlement to the days when Native Americans thrived here. The glade is a haven for hikers and mountain-bike riders, and also maintains the ecological balance between plants and animals.

Natural settings such as Rocky Point would become much more prominent features of city parks, under a plan Kansas City Parks and Recreation is now implementing. Along with converting hundreds of acres of grassy parkland to more of a savannah, the comprehensive sustainability plan also envisions replacing annuals flowers with native perennials in beds.

Jim Merritt: Here’s why Indiana’s job growth depends on clean energy

Read the full story at the Indianapolis Star.

For several years now, lawmakers across Indiana have known of one issue holding us back from an even stronger economy: energy affordability. Energy affordability is important to all businesses and yet has a unique impact on energy-intensive industries, such as car-manufacturing or data centers that power the internet.

For Chicago’s architectural landmarks, retrofits must balance efficiency, integrity

Read the full story at the Energy News Network.

Historically significant — and inefficient — buildings require extra care to preserve design while saving energy.

Air Pollution: Here for All Seasons?

Read the full post from the Rocky Mountain Institute.

An email in my inbox today proclaimed, “it’s September and we’re heading into pollution season in many regions.” I was taken aback. Does pollution have a season? Of course, there is seasonal variability to certain pollutants but, unfortunately, pollution lives with us in and outside our homes in every season.