Mushrooms Replace Styrofoam? Gen New Deal and Solar Challenge, Meet Monica Jahan Bose, and Vertical Farming Meets Affordable Housing

by | Mar 25, 2021 | Podcasts, The Climate Daily

Mushrooms as a natural alternatives to Styrofoam, plus Generation Green New Deal takes on solar energy challenge. A profile on climate champion, Monica Jahan Bose and a new project to combine affordable housing with vertical farming.





Hey Grace, did you know that almost 30% of all plastic waste is polystyrene plastic—you know all those Styrofoam doohickeys?! I wondered online if there are  “natural alternatives to Styrofoam.” It turns out there are biotechnologists at the Technical University of Berlin who are hoping to answer that very question. They’ve come up with a possibly ingenious solution to replacing the Styrofoam in bicycle helmets with…mushrooms!

Mushrooms are a type of fungus. Fungus is composed of two main structures, the above-ground mushroom cap, and the below-ground mycelium.  Uncovered, mycelia may appear as thin and wispy as dental floss. However, like dental floss, mycelia are strong and versatile. Mycelia grow in, through and around just about any organic substrate. Whether it’s leaves or mulch, mycelia digest these natural materials and can also bind everything together in a cohesive mat. And these mats can be grown in molds, such as those that might make a packing carton, or say, a bike helmet.

Several teams of biotechnologists around the world are racing to bring fungus-based products to market. And that matters because he all-natural products, they have no allergy concerns and are completely non-toxic. They are also more UV-stable than foam since they are not petrochemical-based, and won’t emit volatile organic compounds. More impressive is the fact that they’re also fire resistant, and just as water resistant as Styrofoam. Unlike Styrofoam, they won’t clog landfills for eternity. When exposed to the right microbes, they will break down in 180 days in any landfill or backyard.

DEEPER DIVE:,,, Ecovative



Students from generation Green New Geal take on a solutions-based solar energy challenge. The 10-week ‘Throwing Solar Shade’ competition invited Virginia students from one urban and one rural school district to propose solar energy innovations inspired by their own communities. 

Reported by Bay Journal, the four winning entries researched the effectiveness of different solar panel surfaces, the physics of solar panels, the use of light-hued paint to reduce asphalt temperatures and the value of solar panels atop commercial poultry houses. 

Program organizer Anthony Smith said the goal is to grow the next generation of citizen-scientists and engage students in learning about climate change, solar and the five Cs: critical thinking, creativity, collaboration, communication and citizenship skills. The four students were awarded internships with Secure Futures, a Staunton-based solar power developer. 

DEEPER DIVE: Bay Journal 



I recently shared the good news with a colleague that we’d been awarded a Ford Foundation grant to expand The Climate Daily podcast into a longer format version, and she said to me, “You’ve got to meet my friend Monica Jahan Bose. She’s doing big things with Bangladeshi women severely impacted by climate change.”

Monica Jahan Bose is an attorney/artist/activist. Of the many things worth getting to know about Monica, it’s worth noting her service on the board of Samhati, (Solidarity in Bengali)  a US-based Bangladeshi women’s organization that creates small projects focused on ecology and literacy to empower poor women in Bangladesh. It currently runs the Samhati Katakhali Project.

Katakhali is a small island, 25 miles long but only two miles wide. Since 2000, it’s been repeatedly rocked by cyclones (what hurricanes are called in the Southern Hemisphere) and sea level rise. These two have salinated the soil and reduced the availability of fish in the ocean and adjacent rivers.  

The Katakhali Project teaches Bangladeshi women on the island village of Katakhali literacy and hands-on skills like climate change adaptation farming, fishing and resilience skills.

Why the the Samhati Katakhali project matters to us are the valuable lessons gleaned from the women of Katakhali’s body of experience stemming from the application of climate change adaptation techniques taught in project’s farming and fish-cultivation classes. The failures and successes learned by the Katakhali women in getting to improved health of the villagers and their adaptation to food diversification is data worth disseminating around the globe. After all, coastal and island lowlands around the world all will be equally impacted by sea level rise and storm-related flooding.

DEEPER DIVE: Storytelling with Saris



Let me introduce you to a company in Westbrook, Maine developing a new series of projects to build multistory vertical farming inside of affordable housing developments. The company is Vertical Harvest. Founded in 2016, Vertical Harvest confronts three challenges: 80% of arable land is in use worldwide, food travels up to 2,500 miles before reaching customers and 95% of leafy greens come from California and Arizona. The company’s mission is produce free, local food year-round, while providing jobs in underserved populations.

Reported by Fast Company, the hydroponic farms built by Vertical Harvest use 90% less land, 90% less water and 95% less fuel than traditional farming. In an interview with Fast Company, CEO of Vertical Harvest Nona Yehia said, “by creating a large-scale farm in a food desert we are creating a large source of healthy, locally grown food 365 days a year.” Following the project in Westbrook, Maine, similar developments will break ground in Chicago and Philadelphia.

DEEPER DIVE: Fast Company, Vertical Harvest