Ecovative Design, a biotech company in Green Island, New York, designs products made from mycelium, the living root structures of mushrooms.

What looks like a giant marshmallow is a mushroom, which can give a convincing alternative or leather, or even a strip of crispy vegan bacon when sliced and fried. And this one lab is growing an eco-friendly replacement for styrofoam, that light but bulky material that takes up about one-third of the space in most landfills.

Our entire philosophy is based on this idea that nature provides. Mycelium is a brilliant solution to both the plastic waste problem we face and animal agriculture,” says Eben Bayer, co-founder and CEO of Ecovative


All the products at Ecovative start with these natural building blocks. “We have about a hundred different strains in-house and we will analyse those for the different material properties that they have,” says Alex Carlton, senior scientist at Ecovative Design.

Myco Composites are one of the company’s best-selling products. They have similar properties as styrofoam, but they are completely biodegradable. The moulds are designed using large recyclable plastic sheets. The heat makes the sheets pliable so they can be easily shaped into anything.

They start with corn husks, wood chips, or hemp, which are usually thrown away by local farms. Then there goes some fungal spores and water, and the mixture is packed into moulds and the mycelium grows by feeding on the agricultural waste. And in just a week, the form-fitted moulds will be ready to get shipped.

The final material is a little heavier than the styrofoam but velvety soft to touch, and this kind of packaging breaks down in just 30 days. Conventional styrofoam can stay in the environment for up to five centuries and less than one per cent get recycled.

When it comes to making leather and vegan bacon, Ecovative Design has a unique process, which, according to the company, consumes far fewer resources than the real ones. Workers start with agricultural waste and spores, but here the mixtures go into vertical farms, growth chambers that provide them with the condition of natural soil, and the marshmallow kind of material that comes out is called ariel mycelium. It takes around 10 days to grow completely, and the largest chambers can grow up to 200,000 pounds of mycelium per year.

In 2018, Ecovative Design got its leather-making process licensed to Bolt Threads. They make Mylo a leather alternative used in clothing and handbags. In 2020, the company launched My Eats, a line of mushroom-based meat alternatives. The “my” here stands for mycelium. The first product is called My Bacon, which is ariel mycelium cut into slices, compressed, and seasoned. This bacon option is high in fibre, has the same amount of protein as a regular bacon slice, and a fifth of fat.

Eben Bayer and Gavin McIntyre founded Ecovative Design in 2007amd and launched their Myco Composite packaging in 2011. In 2020, the company produced over 6 million pounds of Myco Composite.

Right now, My Bacon is only available in one grocery store in New York, but the company plans to reach more in 2021. It is currently building farms with the capacity to produce 1 million pounds of mycelium per year. The company recently raised a capital of $1 million and, according to Eben, the company is harnessing the potential of the living world.

Tazeen Ansari