Polystyrene, marketed as Styrofoam, is an easy-to-manufacture, efficient, and conveniently affordable polymer-based packaging solution for large-scale industries. It is a clear, hard, and brittle material used for disposable plastic cups, cutlery, and rigid containers for non-perishable products.
However, this material is toxic, hazardous, and non-biodegradable. Since it’s so vastly used across hundreds of industries around the world, about 14 million tons of it are tossed into landfills each year. 
Only about 9% of all polymer and plastic products get recycled, and the recycling process for polystyrene is much harder and less feasible.
The main components of this material are styrene and benzene, two highly toxic and carcinogenic materials. Polystyrene decomposes in an average of 500 years, consistently releasing toxic gases into the environment and filling the guts of the wild and domestic animals that ingest the waste.  Some researchers believe it takes up to a thousand years to be fully broken down, while others tag it at millions of years. The bottom line is polystyrene is a major contributor to global environmental pollution and is highly hazardous to human and animal health.
Mushroom over toxins
IKEA, the Swedish furniture retailing giant, has joined DELL and a few other manufacturers in the “mushroom over Styrofoam” train. The solution was invented by Ecovative, an American bio-materials company in 2007. According to their website, “The Mushroom® Packaging is made from mycelium and the agricultural byproduct of hemp. It’s a high-performance packaging solution that’s cost-competitive with conventional foams, yet 100% home compostable.”
Mycelium is the vegetative part of a fungus that acts as roots in the soil, usually a branched mass of thread-like hyphae.
The Mushroom® Packaging is manufactured by allowing the mycelium to multiply amid agricultural waste and fibers, such as corn stalks, chaff, and cereal husks. The components bind into a solid shape over a few days and are dried to prevent further growth. To dispose of the packaging, it only needs to be tossed in the compost bin or garden soil and it will decompose in a matter of weeks.
In a press release, Joanna Yarrow, head of sustainability for IKEA in the U.K. said that the company is adopting the new packaging solution to reduce waste and increase recycling efforts.
“The great thing about mycelium is you can grow it into a mold that then fits exactly. You can create bespoke packaging.”
Conscious efforts to curb the build-up of plastic waste
Earlier this year, IKEA came up with a plant-based vegan substitute for meatballs made with vegan protein that tastes exactly like animal-based beef.  The company already offers veggie balls in their cafes and restaurants made of a mash-up of carrots, peas, kale, and sweetcorn. Sadly, this blend can be a huge turn-off to meat lovers trying to go green. However, the newly-launched meatless meatballs are a smart way to satisfy their customers’ protein needs and meat urges while keeping the environment safe.
In 2015, a bio-materials company in California, ‘Reduce. Reuse. Grow.’ came up with an affordable, biodegradable coffee cup with seeds embedded in the paper.  After use, the cup could be planted in a garden and it would grow into trees and flowers under the right conditions. The paper is made of a biodegradable cardboard material that decomposes in weeks when moistened.
Greenhouse gas emissions are slowly damaging the Earth and its ecosystem. Going green is the only way to save the planet, and it starts with the little changes we make to our lifestyles and the products we use.
Amanda Froelich. “IKEA to use mushroom-based packaging that will decompose in the garden in weeks”. Truth Theory.
“Let’s Talk About Wasteful Styrofoam Packaging“. Pack Size.
“Polystyrene“. Chemical Safety Facts.
Ellen Scott. “Ikea is making vegan Swedish meatballs that look and taste like meat”. Metro.
Dovas. “Biodegradable Coffee Cups Embedded With Seeds Grow Into Trees When Thrown Away”. Bored Panda.
“Ecovative“. Official website.
“Mycelium: Structure, Reproduction, Differences with Hyphae”. Microscope Master.
“Ikea to use packaging made from mushrooms that will decompose in a garden within weeks”. National Post.