The American Chemistry Council, a coalition of companies that includes the Solo Cup company, has suggested one way to re-use the polystyrene packaging that they purvey: burning it for fuel: “At over 16,000 BTUs per pound, polystyrene contains twice the energy of coal and burns cleanly.” But this kind of narrow thinking, according to Eben, is typical of an industry that refuses to see the big picture, or can’t.
“These companies do their analysis with a box around their system and don’t look at the whole supply chain,” Eben said. “They need to put their box around the whole earth.” If any company tried to push a product like Styrofoam on the public these days, one that was carcinogenic, non-biodegradable and needed a gallon of gasoline per cubic foot to produce, it would be reviled in public and face political outcry. But EPS products have been grandfathered in. “Ten percent better every year is no good anymore,” says Eben of the major chemical companies’ reach for green status. “If we had started that trend in the 50s we might be ok, but it’s too late to start now,” he concludes, with growing intensity. Eben knows there is no time to make the existing system better, so he hopes to tear down the whole thing, stem the bleeding, and start over.
Repurposing used bio-mass for material needs is not a new idea, so it’s a wonder that something like Ecocradle hasn’t sprung up sooner. Eben’s search at the patent office turned up nothing even close to what they envisioned for their mycelium. This probably has a lot to do with the size and influence of the EPS industry, but Eben is undaunted—and he’s keeping a close watch on the major players. “We’re keeping detailed life cycle analysis of all of our products as well as full life cycle analysis on theirs,” he says. If there is a showdown between Big Chemical and Ecovative, Eben wants to be ready with hard facts. Not surprisingly, no EPS industry execs want to acknowledge that Ecovative exists. But that probably won’t last long.
Eben plans to create turnkeys, or patent franchises, so that a company could set up low-cost grow facilities in its basement, locally source its own discarded bio matter, and grow its own packaging—the results would be staggering and costly for the Oil Industry, cutting out the need for the Styrofoam middleman. The addition of Gavin’s Essential Oils project will allow for open-air production, and eventually at-home DIY kits. “We want to offer an alternative to plastics in general,” Eben says, as we approach the train station. “The goal is to benefit the planet and the people, while turning a profit, of course.”