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New Study Says That Tinder Fungus Could Replace Plastics

Research suggests that the composition of tinder fungus, rather than the fungus itself, could offer inspiration as we develop lightweight alternatives to plastic.

tinder fungus could replace plastics
Written by
Calin Van Paris
Fungi are ruling our collective consciousness (and only partly in a psychedelic way). From
foraged finds
to new modes of psychology to
mushroom recipes
fungi-centric shows
, the fungal has gone viral—and the tinder fungus is here to add more fuel to that fire.
According to a
new study
, the tinder fungus could actually help humans in replacing some plastics. Considering landfills received
27 million tons of plastic in 2018
alone, this could be a huge win for the planet.

What Is Tinder Fungus?

tinder fungus replace plastics
Tinder fungus, aka hoof fungus, is found throughout North America, Europe, Asia, and Africa. It's a polypore, growing on living or dead trees and ultimately aiding in the decomposition process.
The fungus is
tough and shelf-like
and spores are discharged from its underside. Tinder fungus gets its name from its centuries-long use as a fire starter, and also enjoys a long menu of appearances in
folk remedies

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How Can Tinder Fungus Help Replace Plastic?

New research—cited in a study published this week in the journal
Science Advances
—suggests that the structure of Fomes fomentarius could offer "inspiration" for a new guard of ultralightweight materials.
Upon analysis, researchers discovered that tinder's three layers (crust, context, and H. tubes) feature unique and distinct molecular makeups, along with an extracellular matrix that protects and strengthens each tier. The qualities combine in a durable and uniquely synergistic natural material—one that could influence our own approach to creating plastic alternatives.
While tinder fungus itself has the potential for use as a
leatherlike material
, the study notes that it's the characteristics of the fungus, rather than the fungus itself, that could lead to a revolution in multifunctional substances.
"What is found to be extraordinary is that, with minimal changes in their cell morphology and extracellular polymeric composition, they formulate diverse materials with distinct physiochemical performances that surpass most natural and man-made materials that are usually confronted by property trade-offs (e.g., increasing weight/density to increase strength/stiffness/toughness)," the study notes.
It seems that fungus is continuing to inspire humans to think outside of the box—and look, with greater attention, toward the Earth.