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Sealed Air reopening Iowa plant to make fungi-based packaging

By: Michael Lauzon

November 12, 2013

Sealed Air Corp. plans to begin production by the end of the year of novel packaging made using fungal threads.

The packaging is made by inoculating agricultural waste like oat hulls with fungal mycelia. The mycelia grow extensively to form an intricate, interwoven network as they feed on the substrate. The composite is then heated to kill the mycelia and fuse the mass into a rigid, plastic-like substance.

Sealed Air is converting a facility in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, to make its mycelial composite named Restore Mushroom Packaging. It will use technology developed by Ecovative Design LLC of Green Island, N.Y. Sealed Air announced last year that it became Ecovative's exclusive licensee for protective packaging in North America.

"Cedar Rapids previously manufactured flexible film for Sealed Air's Cryovac division," Sealed Air spokesman Ken Aurichio said in a phone interview. The plant was shut in 2008 and was idle until Sealed Air began revamping it in summer to make the new packaging.

"Ecovative has had a great deal of success using the unique properties of mycelium for protective packaging," stated Ryan Flanagan, president of Sealed Air's protective packaging business. He said the new technology fits Sealed Air's SmartLife program to reduce waste throughout its supply chain and help customers in their sustainability goals.

In May 2013, Sealed Air and Ecovative announced an expansion of their relationship to include production of the new packaging in Europe. Aurichio said it was too early to say where a manufacturing plant will be located. Sealed Air has been supplying Europe from product made by Ecovative. The partners are actively seeking strategic partners.

Ecovative calls its product Mushroom Packaging. It says the packaging can replace expanded plastics such as polystyrene, polypropylene and polyethylene. Properties can be tailored by varying the organic substrate and type of fungus to grow in it. Target markets include protective packaging, automotive components, construction materials, shoes and floral foam.

Ecovative has received $14 million in financing to expand its operations and for product development. The funds come from 3M Co. and the Doen Foundation, a non-profit organization based in Amsterdam to promote sustainable innovation. Ecovative was founded in 2007. The private company has received numerous awards for its invention.

"Ecovative has taken a disruptive concept for growing cost-effective biomaterials," "Ecovative CEO Eben Bayer said in a Nov. 5 news release.

Sealed Air, based in Elmwood Park, N.Y., is a major producer of packaging and hygiene and cleaning products.