S!@$ or Shiitake?
A group of Mexican scientists have found that cultivating mushrooms in used, disposable diapers could reduce waste by more than 80 percent.
According to LiveScience, “Diapers are made up of some of the most indestructible materials on earth.” Did you know that diapers can last up to hundreds of years in landfills? Now pair that with the fact that according to U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, during infancy the average infant goes through 8,000 diapers. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, there are over 4 million babies born in the U.S. in a year. That’s a lot of soiled diapers laying around in the U.S., alone. As for the world, that’s an astounding amount of waste.
So what do we do?
To help fix this icky problem, a research team from Autonomous Metropolitan University in Azcapotzalco, Mexico, tested the theory of using mushrooms to degrade disposable diapers. Diapers consist of cellulose, which is a plant-based material that mushrooms consume. However, diapers are mostly made up of non-biodegradable materials known as polyethylene, polypropylene and sodium polyacrylate.
How did they grow the fungus?
In their process of gardening the oyster mushroom (Pleurotus ostreatusthe), the team only used diapers of liquid waste. The diapers were first sterilized by high-pressure steaming via an autoclave. After sterilizing, the diapers were ground up and blended with a mixture of lignin containing the leftovers of pressed grapes, pineapple tops and coffee grounds. According to Biology Online, lignin is defined as “an organic substance which act as a binder for the cellulose fibres in wood and certain plants and adds strength and stiffness to the cell walls.” Lignin is necessary in order to grow mushrooms. The last step in the process was the spreading of fungus spores onto the new mixture. The researchers then left the diapers, wrapped in plastic bags, in a dark room for three months under strict temperature and humidity guidelines.
Three Months Later…
After three months in the dark, the mushrooms had bloomed and the degradation was greatly noteworthy. The growth of the fungus had reduced the volume and weight of the diaper concoction by up to 80%.
Is it safe to eat the diaper crop?
Because the diapers were sterilized the team was able to taste test the mushrooms and noted that they were high in protein, fat, vitamins and minerals. Lead researcher Rosa María Espinosa Valdemar stated that they were not grown for human consumption. “The main objective is to get rid of diapers to avoid damaging the environment more,” she explained. “However, the mushrooms could be used as food supplement for cattle.”
Who knew all it took was a green thumb to solve the problem of non-biodegradable diapers?
Lewis, Tanya. “Icky Solution to Diaper Waste: Grow Mushrooms on Them.” Live Science. TechMedia Network, 04 Sept. 2014. Web. 18 Sept. 2014. <http://www.livescience.com/47693-growing-mushrooms-on-diapers.html>.
Neporent, Liz. “Scientists Grow Mushrooms in Dirty Diapers.” ABC News. ABC News Network, 4 Sept. 2014. Web. 18 Sept. 2014. <http://abcnews.go.com/Health/scientists-grow-mushrooms-dirty-diapers/story?id=25246349>.