Green Island, N.Y.
Ecovative Design's 12-bottle EcoCradle shippers are nearly ready to be released.
—A new company is using a novel material from an ancient source to manufacture wine shippers. As wineries build their direct-to-consumer markets and strive for sustainability, shipping containers have become a critical element
in the packaging mix. Strength, insulation properties and bulk all weigh in; recyclability adds another consideration for environmentally conscious winemakers and drinkers.
EcoCradle wine shippers are among the “Mushroom Packaging
” products introduced by Ecovative Design Inc.
of Green Island, N.Y. Founded by Eben Bayer and Gavin McIntyre, graduates of Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, the company creates packaging materials based on mycelium, the hidden roots of mushrooms and fungi that form the foundation of the forest floor.
“The mycelium acts like a glue to bond agriculture byproducts together in a rigid material,” according to Ecovative Design. “We don’t let the mycelium grow long enough to produce mushrooms. That means you never have to worry about spores or allergens. At the end of our process, the materials are just as dead as a cardboard box, so you don’t have to worry about mushrooms sprouting from it or anything like that.”
The resulting material has the same insulating values as Styrofoam, Ecovative Design marketing manager Sam Harrington told Wines & Vines
. It provides the same thermo- and drop protection, although it is somewhat heavier than comparable foam shippers, he conceded.
With an appealingly rustic texture, the shippers can be precision- labeled with non-toxic inks or, Harrington suggested, literally heat-branded, including QR codes.
A fragrant, green factory
Harrington spoke from the company’s new factory, still under construction, which will expand production capacity to “tens of thousands a month,” Harrington said. The facility is where plant material and seed husks from nearby farms will be received, inoculated with mycelium and grow in forms until ready for harvest.
“It grows indoors in the dark, no lights are needed. It smells really nice in here,” Harrington said. He expects the new facility to be fully on line within the month. The actual growth process takes only about a week; the material is then dried to deactivate growth.
Could vineyard waste (prunings, etc.) be suitable for carton cultivation? “Great question,” Harrington replied. “It's an extremely cool idea to use waste from vineyards, and it's one we are certainly considering. One of our biologists joined Ecovative after years of working to manage yeast strains in a big West Coast vineyard. He’s very interested in exploring waste products from vines to seeds and more, to see if this is viable.”
Ecovative has been working with UPS to achieve the standards for reliable wine shipping and has performed drop tests “using fine wines” to ensure the security of shipped bottles. Multiple-bottle shippers are designed to include room for ice packs around the neck, a nicety to provide more thermal protection during transit. “We recommend using ice packs with special paper/fabric wrappers during the coming summer months,” Harrington noted.
Single bottle shippers are available online for $5.99, and Harrington said 12-bottle shippers are almost ready for the market.
The farm-factory is powered by carbon-neutral hydroelectric, and the company used Life Cycle Assessment tools to optimize every step of the process.
“The way we produce mushroom materials uses significantly less energy than the manufacturing of synthetic foams. This is because we harness mycelium’s ability to self-assemble from lignin and cellulose into strong bio-composites. We can actually grow our material at room temperature and atmospheric pressure,” according to Ecovative Design materials. “Ecovative is committed to building a business that is not just sustainable, but actually makes the planet a better place for all organisms on Earth.”
“We are talking to a lot of wineries, but it’s still very new,” Harrington said. “We are looking for pioneers.” For more information, email email@example.com