Mushrooms are cleaning up city streams

| January 28, 2014

If you live in the vicinity of Corvallis, Oregon, you might notice something strange floating in the waterways: burlap bags filled with coffee grounds and growing mushrooms.

It may look like discarded compost or litter, but these mushrooms are serving a very important purpose. They’re absorbing — and, thus, eliminating — harmful toxins from the water.

This project is the effort of volunteers from ecological restoration nonprofit called the Ocean Blue Project. Anthony Rimel of the Corvallis Gazette-Times reports that, “the technique is attempting to take advantage of the natural ability of mycelium — the underground part of fungi — to break down toxins like oil and pesticides and metabolize harmful bacteria like E. coli.”

The underground factor is key. You can’t simply throw mushrooms in a bag; they need to grow in order to serve their purpose. That’s where the coffee grounds and burlap bags come in. This arrangement allows mushrooms to grow in strategic areas in the water to maximize impact.

Mushroom span is placed in a jar to mature. From the Corvallis Gazette-Times.

Mushroom span is placed in a jar to mature. From the  Corvallis Gazette-Times.

The project is in the preliminary stages, and testing will need to be completed in order to assess its effectiveness. If it works, it’ll be an incredibly green response to a daunting problem. Rimel says that water sampling prior to the project’s inception “showed the presence of pesticides, flame retardants, metals, and chemical ingredients from consumer products in the river.”

The Ocean Blue Project is starting the mushroom cleaning effort with Sequoia Creek in Corvallis, and they will expand to the Willamette River if successful. And from there? The possibilities are endless. “If this has a great result, we’re taking it everywhere,” Ocean Blue Project President Richard Arterbury said.

The project is exciting because of the potential payoff, and because of the low initial investment. A coffee company donated the burlap bags and the coffee grounds, both of which would have been thrown out. Arterbury told Rimel that coffee grounds aren’t the only growing material that could work. “Grain waste from local breweries” might also do the trick.


Category: Pollution

About the Author ()

Ellen Hunter Gans has been writing for RecycleReminders since the blog’s inception. She is passionate about words, new media and, of course, recycling.

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