The Rye Youth Council and Rye Middle School teamed up on November 20 to present a Sustainability Day event that covered a range of topics from kitty litter to cows in a desert.
By Sarah Varney
The Rye Youth Council and Rye Middle School teamed up on November 20 to present a Sustainability Day event that covered a range of topics from kitty litter to cows in a desert. Scheduled like any conference, students signed up for three workshops each. The day was capped with a performance by the band Clearwater, which was heavy on ecology songs, but had the kids clapping.
The goal was to give students practical ideas to incorporate on sustaining the planet for its growing population in an ecologically sound manner. Students chose among workshops on the future of electric cars, battery technologies, the science of mushrooms, whale conservation, clean water issues, alternative housing in Ghana and how visiting American students are developing sustainable approaches there, whale conservation, “uncycled” art, education in Bhutan, and a handful more.
One of the most intriguing presentations came from a local source. Taro Ietaka, Director of Conservation at Rye Nature Center, sent his students home with a small Ziploc bag filled with a mushy gray substance —clean kitty litter, a bit of rabbit food, white fuzzy mycelium you see with some mushrooms, and a bit of water can be used to propagate oyster mushrooms. (So parents, if you find this baggy under your child’s bed three months from now, don’t despair.)
Uses for mycelium go far beyond growing mushrooms under the bed. The same material, along with a few other ingredients, is being used to create biogenic packing supplies such as Styrofoam. The mycelium mix is poured into molds and baked. It is just as strong as Styrofoam. “Bio-mimicry” is the technical term for observing the processes of nature and adapting them for human uses. For example, some solar panel technology is based on plant cells.
The fact that hair soaks up oil is another natural process that is being used to clean up oil spills. “Companies are making absorbent booms out of hair and fur. They put mycelium into a mixture with the hair to clean up the oil,” said Ietaka.
My initial reaction to this was “eeeewww,” because I do my own plumbing and I have a teen-age daughter. Perhaps in the future, products like Plumber’s Helper will be made with mycelium fungi and I’ll spend less quality time snaking drains.