>Now that I’ve got your attention, don’t worry–I’m not creating a sick and twisted recipe for fricasseed fleece or sauteed liners. However, cutting edge research out of the Autonomous Metropolitan University in Mexico City does have exciting news on the front of biodegrading those pesky disposable diapers that are filling up our landfills at an alarming rate: they are feeding them to mushrooms.
As this article in The Economist puts it, Alethia Vázquez-Morillas and her colleagues have finally discovered a truly “novel way of dealing with an unpleasant problem”. They have proven that cultivating an appropriate species of mushroom on top of soiled disposable diapers can do away with those darned nappies at break-neck speed. Remember the quotes and factoids being released left, right, and center about it taking hundreds of years for disposable diapers to decompose on their own (even with favorable conditions like moisture, sunlight, and oxygen)? Well, simple oyster mushrooms are giving natural decomposition a kickstart. In fact, they are diminishing the standard 200+ years of decomposition down to a shocking 4 months. That’s right–in only 2 months, 90% of the disposable diaper material will be consumed by the mushrooms, and in 4 months, the entire diaper will have vanished completely.
What is the mushrooms’ secret? What hidden skill do they have that Mother Nature’s other elements do not? Well, for one, they are specially equipped to deal with a particular tough and resilient material called cellulose, the main component in disposable diapers. However, for oyster mushrooms, which regularly make their home upon cellulose-ridden dead or dying tree stumps, the breakdown of this persistent material is all in a normal day’s work.
What’s even better is that oyster mushrooms are hardy, readily available, and relatively commonplace, being applied and consumed in culinary uses daily. Frequently enjoyed in stir fries, pastas, and soups, you can even find these little guys at your local Costco or grocery store, popular and perfect for eating. What about, however, the mushrooms that have been fed a regular diet of … er … soiled baby diapers? Well, Dr. Vásquez-Morillas maintains that they too are perfectly safe to eat–and she has, in fact, eaten them herself. As a quick aside to this, however, for the time being, Morillas and her cohorts used only urine-filled diapers in their study (maintaining that the urine of a healthy individual is, indeed, sterile). However, to be on the safe side, they steamed the dirtied diapers at high temperatures before feeding them to the mushrooms. They maintain that the same process of high-heat steam sterilization could also be used on fecal-filled diapers before being turned over as dinner for the oyster mushrooms (which, in turn, could provide us with our dinner).
Whether or not this turns your stomach or ignites the flame of controversy, there is still amazing credit to be given to this team of researchers who have found one clever way of dealing with the plethora of waste that modern day parents are conveniently sending to our landfills. If not all parents are willing to do their part to reduce our diaper waste problems, even in consideration of future generations, then perhaps we will have to call in the fungi after all.