The University of Queensland researchers are working with industry to develop biodegradable 'plastic' bags for use in mushroom farming, which could open lucrative opportunities in packaging and manufacturing.
Dr. Nasim Amiralian from UQ's Australian Institute for Bioengineering and Nanotechnology is collaborating with Queensland producer Scenic Rim Mushrooms to reduce the company's reliance on plastic 'grow bags.'
"Grow bags are widely used across the fungiculture industry, but most are made from non-biodegradable materials which can only be burned or sent to landfill," Dr. Amiralian said.
"This adds to the 80,000-plus tonnes of plastic waste generated by Australian agriculture each year.
"This 12-month project is about designing a grow bag that provides optimum growing conditions while also breaking down in soil."
Dr. Amiralian said existing biodegradable plastics made from corn starch, potato starch, or even mycelium – the vegetative part of mushrooms - are often brittle and lack long-term integrity.
"But using fibers from agricultural waste like sugarcane is an affordable, high quality, and sustainable way to ensure plastic grow bags can withstand high temperatures and humidity," she said.
Scenic Rim Mushrooms founder Matthew Davis said the company's farming methods were all sustainable, except for the use of plastics.
"The fungiculture industry has traditionally had to use plastics for mass commercial production, but this project gives us hope," Mr. Davis said.
"It's a problem that needs to be fixed for us to become completely cyclic mushroom growers and proceed to large-volume commercial cultivation."
Dr. Amiralian said the grow bag project could lay the groundwork for the technology to be applied across agriculture, manufacturing, pulping, and packaging.
"Ultimately, we'd like to see the product we develop translated to the global fungiculture and packaging markets," she said.
The project has been funded with the help of a $30,000 Industry Kickstarter grant from the UQ Agri-Food Innovation Alliance, supported by the Australian Government Department of Education, Skills, and Employment under the Strategic University Reform (SURF).