Turning plastic into food? Can’t come soon enough

Some would joke most food is already plastic, but sarcasm aside, this research could be the start of a great and cheap source of fuel to make plastics edible.


Two Austrian designers have teamed up with Utrecht University to develop an incubator dubbed the ‘Fungi Mutarium.’ It cultivates plastic-digesting fungi, which is edible.

Researchers at Yale University in 2012 discovered a rare variety of mushroom that could break down polyurethane, a type of plastic. What followed was a wave of research exploring how fungi can degrade plastic without retaining any of its toxicity.

Along came Katharina Unger, who thought: “What if this waste could be turned into food?” And with five trillion pieces of plastic clogging up the world’s oceans, there is no shortage of raw material.

It is actually quite a reasonable question to ask:  how do you turn plastics into food?  If it can be cracked commercially, this will take care of a waste stream we haven’t been too good at dealing with until now.

But the process isn’t as simple as it sounds. In order to be edible for the mushrooms, the plastic must first be put in an activation chamber where UV light sterilizes it.

The plastic is then put in the FU, or growth sphere, where it is placed in an oval egg-shaped pod made out of agar – a seaweed-based substitute for gelatin. If mixed with starch and sugar, agar can act as a nutrient base for the fungi.

Fungi sprouts covered in liquid nitrogen are then put into the FU, which over time digests the plastic. This takes a couple of months, but researchers are working on accelerating the process by optimizing growth conditions.

“They [the fungi] are found throughout the world and can be seen on a wide range of timbers and many other plant-based substrates virtually anywhere in Europe, Asia, the Americas and Australia. They digest toxic waste materials, and are also commonly eaten,” said Unger, as quoted by The Local.

Many a happy accident has happened in a lab when they were looking to achieve something else.


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  • Wallace Westland

    The UN is NOT gonna like this. A solution to pollution AND world hunger…no no no..the trough..we must keep filling the trough up with questions not answers.

  • Tom

    You didn’t read this first on the Green blog lol

  • Rick H

    Perhaps the world’s Hunger problems solved – by one Ms ‘Unger.
    Seems fitting

  • Dave_1924

    Nice…. as long as they don’t mutate, triffid like and eat all the plastic out there /humour…..

  • Steve (North Shore)

    Huge harvesting marine machines that comb the oceans for plastic to make into food.
    It will be seen as ocean mining by the Greens and therefore banned

  • SovereignSoul

    We have already ruined a vast amount of the glorious food we were gifted by god, hybridizing and tampering with something we dont understand in the slightest, I am not very enthusiastic about lab grown meat or edible plastic, I like to take my health care into my own hands but when the entire system gets ruined we wont have a choice anymore.

    • Wallace Westland

      God who?

    • david W

      Yes, but the fungi could turn the plastic into biomass which could then be used on gardens etc to generate other food.

      Also if you read the article the fungi are not being tampered with, they are just being grown. Sure the parameters of the environment are being played with to determine the optimal growth / breakdown rate. But in essence it is letting nature do what it does.

      Also with the small amount I know from bio-remediation, fungi actually do completely remediate the substance. ie the break it down and render it harmless. Some very interesting work being done with DDE and other contaminates that last a long time in the soil.

      • SovereignSoul

        You dont understand the reasons why I am weary. I cant back up my health beliefs with conventional science, their based on personal experience and a mix of ancient and modern wisdom. I was forced to look outside mainstream medicine because it failed me and after doing my own research, disobeying the food pyrimid and refusing Alopathic drug symptom management I have sorted things out (asthma, poor digestion, depression etc.). So I dont trust them and I dont like it when they say they can improve our food supply, because they said that about GMO’s and hydrogenated fats.

  • Sailor Sam

    We already have edible plastic, it is called margarine.