Papers are an important part of our life, be it student life (cardboard, notebooks, etc.) or official life (computer paper, corrugated papers, etc.) or home (towels, toilet papers, etc.). Papers are made from trees (hardwood and softwood). Hence, we need a lot of trees to continue the production of paper and paper products. It is estimated that 42% of all global wood harvest is used to make paper. It is estimated that in the process of paper production by chemical methods, 1 ton of printing paper is produced from approximately 24 trees. According to data released by Global Forest Resource Assessment, 80,000- 1,60,000 trees are cut each day around the world and a major proportion is used in paper making. In the electronic age, although we are trying to go paperless it’s practically not possible and it’s a long way before this important product is retired or laid off. There are alternative fibers available that can be used as alternatives to using wood for paper making. It includes agricultural waste such as sugarcane bagasse, husks, straw, and even bamboo. These alternates can be broadly categorized into agricultural residue, waste paper, and fiber crops. However, many sensitive producers are also considering non-wood alternatives to wood, the harvest of which is directly affecting the earth and causing global warming.
Most people do not know mushrooms can be used to make paper! The mushroom paper uses the same process as conventional paper production and differs only in the type of fiber used. The kind of paper you know is made of randomly interwoven cellulose fibers. Cellulose is a major component of plant cell walls, so paper could theoretically be made from any plant material. However, some plants perform better than others. Most paper is made from wood because it is the cheapest source of cellulose. High-grade papers may contain cellulose from other plants, such as cotton. This can give them texture, strength, and other properties (for example, comparing foil to printer paper), but nowadays we can use mushrooms which can be a good substitute for wood for paper making. The mushroom paper differs from ordinary paper in that chitin fibers are used instead of cellulose. Chitin is a major component of the cell wall of fungi and the exoskeleton of arthropods (insects, spiders, crabs, shrimp, etc.). Replacing cellulose with chitin in papermaking dates back to the 1970’s, when people began researching new, eco-friendly ways of papermaking. In one of the methods, chitin from shrimp exoskeletons is used to make paper. This caught the attention of Miriam C. Rice, who was working to make natural dyes using mushrooms. During this process of dye making, some pieces of mushrooms were left that she thought to use in paper making. After some trial and, an error she succeeded and in 1985 she introduced paper mushrooms to the world.
Making paper from mushrooms uses the same process as making regular paper by hand. Today, most paper production is mechanized, but the principles remain the same as traditional paper production. The process described below was the method of choice for paper production up until the Industrial Revolution. Choosing mushrooms is an important aspect of paper making. Miriam Rice found that the wood-hardened multi-cellular produced the best paper. Some of the best mushrooms for making paper are Ganoderma, Fomitopsis and Trametesversicolor, etc. These are fairly common finds and a few can be grown or purchased commercially. Many of these are found and collected in the forest as non-timber forest products (NTFP). Hence, a good option for the NTFP for tribals and villagers for the establishment of small-scale industries (LaghuUdyog) and an additional source of income.
Making paper from mushrooms involves following steps: first, the mushrooms are soaked in water for three weeks changing the water every few days. After thoroughly soaking, the mushrooms are cut into small pieces. Finally, these are blended in a blender along with water until puree is formed. One can also include other materials at this stage for different effects and textures. In the conventional papermaking process, the lignin is separated (the substance that gives the wood its hardness) from the cellulose at this point which is done either mechanically or chemically. Fortunately, mushrooms only use cellulose in their structure so this step is not required in the papermaking process from mushrooms.Whenthe mushroom broth is ready, the puree is poured into a pot, and water is added this mixture of water and chitin fiber is called as porridge. The clumps are broken and the dough has an even consistency and layers of fibers are removed from the porridge. This can be done by attaching a screen (bridge) to a wooden frame (mold). The deck and mold are lowered into the mud (deck up, mold down) and raised to catch some of the floating fibers. Bridge and mold is set up before adding the broth, as the mycelium can float. The screen is kept flat to ensure that the paper has an even thickness. If uneven, the deck is quickly tilted and grinded back and forth to evenly distribute the strands and excess water is drained into the pot.
Thereafter in the Sleeping step (Kooching), the paper is removed from the base. Firstly, the deck is turned over and placed upside down on a stack of newspapers, towels, and/or other absorbent material. Sponge is used to remove excess water and deck is lifted from the paper. Initially, the paper is made thicker as it’s difficult to work with thin paper at this stage. The paper is than dried using additional drying material and placing weight over the top. When the paper is strong enough, it can be hung on a wire to finish the drying process and the mushroom paper is ready.
The paper made of mushroom are thicker and stiffer than normal paper, so it is often used for art projects. And since you already made paper with mushrooms, why not decorate it with mushrooms? One can decorate paper using mushroom watercolors (much like mushroom crayons). If ones want to learn more about the artistic uses of mushrooms, check out Miriam Rice's book:Mushrooms for Dyeing, Paper, Pigment, and MycoStix. Since mushroom paper is hard it can be used as packaging paper and can be a good substitute for generic cardboard. While working on paper made from mushroom one may think, is it really cost effective and feasible?For every 100 kg of wood, a mushroom has approximately 70% of cellulose and hemicellulose which is the main component of paper making. Wehave been using wood as main source of paper because of its cost effectiveness, but the amount of damage is irreparable. One of the major factors that include deforestation which in turn leads to climate change is alarmingly high. This is why we have been looking for different sources of paper. Mushroom can be the answer for it if done in correct manner.We have yet to find out the cost effectiveness of mushroom paper if produced in a large, full-fledged manufacturing unit. However, if we just take the amount of trees saved into consideration we surely are saving environment.
Ekansh Jadon, Saumya Awasthi, Abhishek Anand
(The authors are Semester- I students of M.Sc. Biotechnology, School of Sciences, SAGE University Bhopal. They are keen in developing ecofriendly microbial technologies and microbial solutions to human created/ developed problems. The students are taking guidance from Dr. Rohit Sharma, Professor, School of Sciences, SAGE University, Bhopal on the above project of development of paper using mushrooms. For any questions related to the topic, please write at email@example.com or visit us at our department in the university campus.