What’s something pizza and construction waste recycling have in common? Well, in light of sustainability developments, it might be mushrooms.
An Australian company recently finished up a recycling pilot project in Kentucky that used mushrooms to decompose used roof shingles. An October 2022 news release by the project’s partners – Mycocycle, Rockwood Sustainable Solutions, Lendlease, and Rubicon Technologies – described the recycling process as mycoremediation.
The basic objective of this innovative nature-based process is decarbonizing construction and demolition debris, such as asphalt roofing shingles, by allowing fungi to produce enzymes to “digest” the complex carbon portion of the waste. As explained by Berkeley-based Bay Area Applied Mycology, a scientific research group, smaller, non-toxic molecules of hydrogen, oxygen and carbon are the result.
A ScienceDirect Biotechnology Report in 2020 described mycoremediation as “a comparatively cost-effective, eco-friendly, and effective method” for remediating common pollutants,” including heavy metals, dyes, herbicides, pharmaceutical, and even radioactive wastes.
According to the ScienceDirect Report, fungi are good candidates for mycoremediation because they:
- Have vigorous growth with an extensive branching network of roots (mycelium);
- Produce versatile enzymes and metal-binding proteins;
- Have a high ratio of surface area to volume;
- Resist damage from heavy metals;
- Adapt to fluctuating pH and temperature.
A report on FoodTank.com described the use of mushrooms to detoxify polluted water and soil that result after fire sweeps through an area. In these situations, burned and melted plastics, metals, electronics and building materials leave behind toxic ash that can have serious health implications.
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Construction site uses for the resulting recycled byproducts include landscaping and clean fill. In addition, the fire- and water-resistant byproducts reportedly can be remanufactured into new products.
Representatives of the partner companies presented details of the Kentucky project during the Greenbuild International Conference in November 2022. The project was showcased as an example of the way net-zero leaders are enabling the growth of a circular construction economy by diverting plastics and petrochemical waste from landfills to reuse through recycling.
On its website, Mycocycle explains that mushrooms naturally decompose complex carbons. This same principle can be used to eliminate toxins in construction waste. Laboratory-cultivated fungi are grown in shredded waste materials. They can also be applied to construction waste onsite.
Another partner in the project, Rockwood, explains on its website that it uses innovative recycling initiatives to promote sustainability in progressive ways. The company’s statistics include recycling 250-million pounds of waste materials in the past five years and saving 80,000 barrels of oil in the process. One of its accomplishments was providing a recycled asphalt shingle paving mixture to pave 1,500 miles of roads in the region of Tennessee.
The nature-based process of using fungi to detoxify and decarbonize a wide variety of pollutants is promising as a developing science. The effect on sustainable options for recycling construction and demolition debris promises to benefit construction companies worldwide and the environment as a whole, recycling and reusing the waste the industry produces.
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