Cigarette filters are the most commonly littered waste product in the world. Last year, nearly 1.7 billion pounds of cigarette filters were thrown into the globe’s landfills and ecosystems. That’s roughly 4.5 trillion cigarette butts littered each year! In the US alone, an estimated 135 million pounds of cigarette butts are thrown away annually.
Cigarette filters are made from a type of plastic called cellulose acetate. As cellulose acetate does not readily biodegrade, cigarette litter can persist in the environment for 10-15 years or longer before it begins to break down. The filters that aren’t thrown into the streets and parks of the world find their way into landfills where they slowly leach toxic chemicals and heavy metals into ground water systems. Fortunately, fungi may provide a solution to this global issue.
As discussed in the Radical Mycology article, Fungi and The Plastics Problem, it has long been known that fungi can degrade various forms of plastic. However, a large-scale, real-world application of this ability has never been explored to any real depth. This may have been due to a variety of factors, one of which being that the chemical composition of many plastics is too complex for many fungi to readily digest. The plastic that composes cigarette filters, however, is of a rather simple composition and thus allows some common fungi to easily digest it.
Cellulose is the structural component in plant cell walls and is also one of the most accessible nutrient sources that fungi degrade in the natural world. Fungi use digestive enzymes to break down cellulose into simple sugars, which are then metabolized by the fungus. As the cellulose acetate that comprises cigarette filters is nothing more than a modified form of plant cellulose, it turns out that some fungi can break down this industrial plastic waste product.
As Peter of the Radical Mycology project demonstrates in the video below, fungi can not only be trained to digest used cigarette filters but possibly the toxic chemicals that they harbor as well. The methodology Peter used to accomplish this goal was based on an understanding of the skills needed to “train” a fungus to digest a foreign substance. Simply put, the mushroom cultivator must slowly introduce a new food source to a fungus so that the fungus can first determine and then produce the correct enzymes necessary to digest the novel substrate. The same concepts that Peter introduces in this video can be applied to a range of toxins and industrial chemicals, such as petroleum products, dioxins, dyes, and munitions. This is a concept known as fungal remediation. In recent years, skills such as these were coveted techniques used by professional mycologists and bioremediation firms. However, as the global grassroots bioremediation community has continued to grow in the last few years, these techniques have become increasingly more available to the common cultivator.
Skills such as this will be explored in-depth in the Radical Mycology Book. If you would like to learn more advanced mycological skills for reducing your pollution impact and to help clean up the environment, please consider backing the Radical Mycology Book Indiegogo campaign.
At $0.50 – $1.00 per pill, commercial medicinal mushroom capsules are prohibitively expensive for most people. This is rather unfortunate as the powerful abilities that these fungi have for increasing immunity, suppressing tumor growth, and healing the body are incredibly beneficial to most people. It is also remarkable when one discovers that the cost of actually producing these capsules can be as low as 5% of their retail cost. That’s a 95% markup!
Thankfully, there are means for one to make their own medicinal mushroom capsules at a fraction of the retail price. Making your own medicinal mushroom capsules is not only cheap and easy, it is also an empowering means to providing your own medicinal mushroom products for increased longevity.
In the short video below, Peter McCoy of the Radical Mycology project demonstrates a simple method of producing a large quantity of medicinal mushroom capsules using a minimum of equipment. In summary, one introduces mushroom mycelium into jars of sterilized brown rice. The mycelium is then allowed to grow on the rice for several weeks, at which point the resultant “myceliated brown rice” is dried and powdered. Myceliated brown rice is the main ingredient in many commercial medicinal mushroom capsules. The main differences between the capsules that Peter makes and the commercial products are as follows:
- Some of the higher quality commercial products include powdered whole mushrooms (their fruiting bodies) along with the mycelium. However, as Peter points out in the video, there are some medicinal mushrooms that can be fruited “in the jar,” thereby allowing one to still obtain the benefits of the fruiting bodies.
- Commercial products are freeze dried, not air dried. While freeze drying allows for a longer shelf life, it is not easily accomplished for the home medicine maker and herbalist (but cheap methods do exist). Air dried mycelium should be stored in the fridge and occasionally checked for quality.
- Some commercial products (but not necessarily all of them) utilize mushroom “strains” that have been tested and shown to contain higher than average quantities in their medicinal constituents. What this means is that the genetics of the mycelium you are working with–and the capsules it ultimately produces–may not contain as high of a concentration of medicinally active constituents as a commercial product would. While this can be true (just as plants can vary widely in their relative medicinal compound concentration), there are some ways to tackle this argument. One simple solution is to simply consume more capsules. Considering that they are quite inexpensive to produce and that there are no documented deaths associated with an overdose of medicinal mushroom capsules, this is an easy work around. Another perspective is the idea that if you are working with a mushroom that was harvested locally, the medicinal compounds that it produces might be of a more beneficial constitution than that of an imported variety. This is a commonly held belief in the world of plant herbalism: that the natural medicine that is most beneficial for a person can often be found in their own region of the world.
Ultimately, the home creation of medicinal mushroom products is a valuable skill for one to learn for self-sufficiency and resilient living strategies and can compete in quality with many expensive commercial products sold today.
This technique for integrating fungi into your everyday life, and many more like it, will be covered to an even greater depth in the Radical Mycology Book. If you would like to learn more mushroom-related skills like this for healing yourself and your community, please visit the Radical Mycology Book Fundraiser.
The cultivation videos referred to in this video can be viewed here.
Evan Shoepke at Punk Rock Permaculture recently did an interview with Peter from the Radical Mycology collective about the ways that working with the fungal kingdom can influence and inform the work of effective biomimicry and permaculture design. Check out the interview below and then stop by Evan’s site to check out the wealth of DIY & low-cost permaculture resources that he provides.
Radical Mycology’s long time friend, Pat Rasmussen with Edible Forest Gardens in Olympia, made an incredible amateur mycological discovery the other day. Pat regularly installs perennial gardens in the Olympia area, often with the Elm Oyster mushroom (Hypsizygus ulmarius) as a potential companion for the plants. But when a local big-name mushroom farm accidentally sent her the wrong kit, she ended up installing the Nameko mushroom (Pholiota nameko) instead. 5 months later, the result were incredible. The perennial Aronia plants (similar to blueberries) planted in the area with the mushroom bed grew over twice as large as those plants grown without the mushroom companion. And the grape plants in the area did much better as well. As with all great scientific discoveries, this accident leads to a new realm of exploration in the field of plant companioning.
Why do some decomposing fungi help plants grow? The answer isn’t clear. In the book Mycelium Running, Paul Stamets worked with a research student to determine whether specific saprotrophic mushrooms would be beneficial to certain food plants if grown in proximity. After a season of growth and various plant and mushroom pairings, a few strong results surfaced. Notably, the Elm Oyster was found to dramatically increase Brassica plant growth and yield, while other pairings (such as normal Oyster mushrooms [Pleurotus spp.] paired with Brassicas) were shown to actually be detrimental to the plants. The exact reason for this is unknown. As both these mushroom species are aggressive decomposers, it can’t simply be the nutrient and carbon dioxide release. Perhaps specific enzymes being released by the Elm Oyster works to stimulate the Brassica plant’s roots or supports the soil flora. Chances are, there might be many more beneficial plant-mushrooms pairings that have yet to be discovered.
Pat’s accidental discovery is notable for 3 main reasons: 1) the Nameko mushroom has not been previously cited as a known food plant companion, 2) the dramatic results from pairing this decomposing fungus (as opposed to a mycorrhizal fungus) with a perennial plant is interesting as most better known plant-(decomposing) mushroom companionings (such as the Elm Oyster with Brassicas) are often done with annual plants and 3) Pat is an amateur mycologist! As mycology is such a young field, new discoveries are made all the time, especially by non-professionals or academics. By adding to the world of mycological knowledge, Pat is taking part in the citizen science aspect of mycology. While this pairing should be further tested to determine true efficacy, this is exactly the kind of exciting discovery we support and are inspired by at Radical Mycology. Kinda makes you wanna go play with mushrooms.