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.
Peter McCoy from the Radical Mycology crew will be hitting the road this summer to hold a few speaking events around the country on the following presentation. Come by and say hey if you are in the area!
Radical Mycology: Culture from the Leading Edge
In this presentation/discussion we will take a philosophical approach to the redefinition of human/fungal relationships in these changing times. Peter McCoy, co-founder of the Radical Mycology project, will share his perspective on the lessons exhibited by the fungal kingdom and their mycelial networks in relation to strengthening human societies and creating a more harmonious world. What can we learn from the fungi about longevity and resilience in the face of severe global challenges? How can we live our lives more in balance with nature and in greater symbiosis with each other? These questions and more can be answered by the fungi, if one takes the time to ask and observe. Come to learn, then stay to join the discussion and add to this growing dialogue.
August 2 | Forest Grove, OR | Northwest Permaculture Convergence
August 12 | 4PM | Seattle, WA | Black Coffee
$5 suggested donation, no one turned away for lack of funds
August 16-18 – Telluride, CO – Shroomfest
Saturday the 17th – 1:30PM
Radical Mycology: Symbiotic cultures from the leading edge
Sunday the 18th – 9:30AM
Radical Mycology and Classical Mycology: A Discussion
August 20 | 6PM | Denver, CO | Denver Zine Library
$5 suggested donation, no one turned away for lack of funds
August 22 | 5PM | Santa Fe, NM | Radical Abacus
$5 suggested donation, no one turned away for lack of funds
Sept 4 | 6PM | Portland, OR | Laughing Horse Books
$5 suggested donation, no one turned away for lack of funds
Radical Mycology co-founder Peter McCoy has co-authored a chapter on fungal remediation, Radical Mycology, and the Radical Mycology Convergence in the new book from Leila Darwish entitled Earth Repair. This book is an amazing guide to community-scale, DIY remediation and healing in disaster scenarios. Read the description below then head over to the book’s website at earthrepair.ca to pick up a copy!
Earth Repair: A Grassroots Guide To Healing Toxic and Damaged Landscapes
By: Leila Darwish
“Millions of acres of land have been contaminated by pesticides, improperly handled chemicals, dirty energy projects, toxic waste, and other pollutants in the United States and Canada. Conventional clean-up techniques employed by government and industry are not only incredibly expensive and resource-intensive, but can also cause further damage to the environment. More and more communities find themselves increasingly unable to rely on those companies and governments who created the problems to step in and provide solutions.
How can we, the grassroots, work with the power of living systems to truly heal and transform toxic and damaged landscapes into thriving, healthy, and fertile places once more? How can we respond to environmental disasters in accessible and community empowering ways?
Earth Repair explores a host of powerful and accessible grassroots bioremediation techniques to assist with the recovery of the lands and waters that nourish us. These techniques include:
Mycoremediation – using fungi to clean up contaminated soil and water.
Microbial remediation – using microorganisms to break down and bind contaminants
Phytoremediation – using plants to extract, bind, and transform toxins
Packed with valuable firsthand information, recipes and remedies from visionaries in the field, Earth Repair empowers communities and individuals to take action and heal contaminated and damaged land and water. Encompassing everything from remediating and regenerating abandoned city lots for urban farmers and gardeners, to responding and recovering from environmental disasters and industrial catastrophes such as oil spills and nuclear fallout, this fertile toolbox is essential reading for anyone who wishes to transform environmental despair into constructive action.
The book also features inspiring mycoremediation contributions from Peter McCoy (Radical Mycology) and Ja Schindler (Fungi for The People), as well as interviews with Paul Stamets (Fungi Perfecti), Mia Rose Maltz (Amazon Mycorenewal Project), and Scott Koch (Telluride Mushroom Festival).
For more information about the book and upcoming workshops, or to order the book, go to http://www.earthrepair.ca.
About the Author:
Leila Darwish is a community organizer, permaculture practioner, educator, writer, grassroots herbalist, and urban gardener with a deep commitment to environmental justice, food sovereignty, and to providing accessible and transformative tools for communities dealing with toxic contamination of their land and drinking water.
Over the last decade, she has worked as a community organizer for different environmental organizations and community groups in Alberta, BC and the USA on campaigns such as tar sands, fracking, nuclear energy, coal, climate justice, water protection, and more. She is a certified permaculture designer and has also apprenticed on different organic farms across Canada and the USA.”
September 14, 2011
Over 200 people gathered in northern Washington state this past Labor Day weekend to learn about the many uses of the fungal kingdom at the world’s first Radical Mycology Convergence. For four days, people gathered from several countries and various cultural backgrounds to teach and learn together about mycoremediation, the use of fungi as a tool to help combat mass pollution and ecological degradation. In an age when so many human caused disasters are occurring throughout the world, the fungi are beginning to be seen as a strong option for tackling some of these great problems long thought impossible to solve.
WHY RADICAL MYCOLOGY?
Access to mycological information is not easy. With a cultural view that fears fungi, a schooling system that undervalues them, and only a small number of courses on advanced mycology worldwide, it is easy to see why the fifth kingdom is so disregarded and misunderstood. As one of the youngest natural sciences, mycology (the study of fungi) has largely been kept in the hands of professionals since its development with much of the official work focusing simply on taxonomy and species edibility/toxicity. However, in the last few decades (and really just the last few years) the greater fungi have started to gain more acceptance and familiarity to those outside of academia as their uses beyond the dinner plate are starting to be realized.
It is surprising to note that most people do not realize that fungi are not only on, in and a part of all living (and once-living) things but that they play an extremely important role in the life cycle of plants as well. Acting like stewards of the forest, certain fungi create complex networks of “mycelium” (that white stuff you see when you pull back a decaying log) underground that serve to channel nutrients and water between plants and to help maintain the health of entire ecosystems. The fungi are also responsible for the decomposition of all woody material, turning dead plant matter in to fresh soil for new plants to thrive in. Without the fungi the world would be piled high in dead trees with no new ones growing.
In the last decade or so, mycologists have discovered that the same enzymes that fungi naturally produce to digest their food can also be used to break down toxic pollutants and petroleum products. Species have been discovered that can digest plastics, disposable diapers, motor oil, DDT, and Agent Orange as well as sequester and concentrate heavy metals out of polluted soil for later disposal. This emerging field of “mycoremediation” has only barely gained a foundation from which to grow on as in-depth research and experimentation in the last few years has been scant at best and suppressed at worst. As such a powerful ally in the fight to save the planet before ecological collapse, the fungi are now more worthy of investigation than ever before*. Thus, the RMC was formed to foster a community of people interested in developing and implementing mycoremediative techniques to provide a resource for peer learning and encouragement.
Through the use of fungi to enact change, we are attempting to radically challenge assumptions about the importance of the fungal kingdom in an effort to help shift our relationship to the Earth toward greater harmony.
WHY A CONVERGENCE?
The intent of the organizers of the RMC in forming the event was three fold: 1) To share mycological information in an accessible manner using the simplest techniques and a minimal amount of equipment 2) To promote the use of mycoremediation techniques & 3) To build an all-inclusive & non-hierarchical network of amateur & professional mycologists. We feel we were quite successful in our efforts to a degree beyond any expectations.
Despite a full schedule all weekend, the RMC went off without a hitch. Workshops included sterile and non-sterile cultivation methods, mycopermaculture/mushrooms in the garden, mycomedicinals, mushroom paper and dye making, and fungi and lichen identification. There were also presentations on ethnomycology in Mexico by professional mycologists from Baja California. Folks from the Amazon Mycorenewal Project spoke on their work to clean up oil spills in Ecuador using oyster mushrooms. And a representative from the Mushroom Development Foundation spoke to their work teaching Indian farmers to grow mushrooms from agricultural waste. All this took place on a communal farm with nightly group fires, a raging talent show and raffle, and great swimming holes. Add in a general sense of commonality and you get an inspiring weekend of learning and building a community where one had not existed before.
Many presenters demonstrated techniques they had developed on their own to reduce the use of fossil fuels and expensive equipment from cultivating mushrooms. James from Amateur Mycology in Colorado stated that he hadn’t thrown away a piece of paper for 2 years as he was turning it all into mushrooms. James also spoke of successes in using mushroom beds as living mulch in a greenhouse to increase plant yields. Another workshop demonstrated tissue culturing in open air using only hydrogen peroxide and alcohol to sterilize your equipment. A big take away message from the weekend was that there is so much yet to be discovered about mycology–and so few people doing it–that it will take the work of amateurs to increase understanding.
As a culmination to the weekend, we implemented 2 small remediation projects at the host farm to put theory to practice. We set up 2 beds of King Stropharia mushrooms to help decompose the humanure produced at the farm. We also installed various burlap sacks inoculated with Blue Oyster mushrooms around the farm’s spring to help filter the water or possible runoff from a nearby road as well as prevent erosion to the surrounding hill side.
Through the RMC we created an environment that encouraged skill and knowledge sharing by embracing diversity and working toward the greater goal of a healthier planet and way of life. With the advances being made over the last few years, working with the fungi has never been easier than now, at a time when their capabilities are of greatest import. This information deserves to be in the hands of those who want it and the Radical Mycology Convergence was one step among several toward reaching that goal.
On the final day of the convergence an open discussion was held to reflect on the RMC and to discuss ideas for future gatherings as well as how folks plan to implement this information in their local communities. The consensus showed that those present were excited to begin the process of developing a web-based forum or wiki to enable cultivators and experimenters to share techniques and experiences in relation to low-tech cultivation and remediation work. Similarly, free publications will be produced that teach these techniques and demonstrate case studies of the work people are doing with fungi. Also, a decentralized formal network will be created of groups of people doing this work so as to stay connected, organize future/regional RMCs, and to collaborate as desired.
A truly unique event, the first Radical Mycology Convergence was a huge success drawing in all types of people to live and learn together. The RMC demonstrated the power of a shared concern for the future of the planet to overcome personal differences in political or worldviews and the need to embrace novel ideas for tackling some of the world’s problems. We found that out of their backyards and garages, people are developing novel ways to work with the fungi to reduce their waste streams, filter their water, produce food and potent medicines easily, as well as work to clean up their local landbases thru remediation work.
The meme of radical mycology is only just developing. Time will tell how common this information and these techniques will become in the future. For now we invite those interested in learning more to follow the links and articles at http://www.radicalmycology.com.
The Radical Mycology Convergence organizers
* This is not to say this information addresses the problem of eliminating the manufacturing of these products. Rather it provides a way to actually deal with existing problems alongside efforts to stop their proliferation.