Nature at the heart of a new industry for Watchet
Open public meeting, Thursday 11th July, 6.30pm to discuss the proposed bio-recycling facility at the Paper Mill site in Watchet. At the Methodist Church, Harbour Road, Watchet. All welcome.
As any lover of the great outdoors will know, nature has an awe-inspiring ability to offer answers where we least expect it. We hope to have found an unexpected answer in the form of the humble mushroom and an innovative company called Biohm.
The question we at Onion Collective, together with many people asked back in 2017 was in relation to the closure of the old paper mill and the loss of 175 jobs that went with it. As any Watchet local will know, that closure was devastating for the town, its loss meant difficult questions for the future. How could Watchet stay as a working town and support its families and local people without this industry? What could a new replacement industry look like and how should it be fit for the future?
We began searching for a new replacement industry that would truly benefit Watchet. In order to do this we set up a framework for what ‘truly benefit Watchet’ might mean:
It would need to be prosperous and commercially successful,
It would need to provide jobs for local people,
It would need to be environmentally excellent,
It would need to be pioneering in order to put Watchet on the map, and provide the town with a business to be proud of.
The journey took us to explore all sorts of options. From insect farming to tech-enabled elderly care, to flat packed eco homes, each slowly dismissed because they couldn’t meet the intended outcomes for one reason or another.
Research into bio based-materials (ie products made from living - or once living - raw materials) led us to meet Biohm. Biohm are a ground-breaking start-up company, intent on re-imagining the way we build our homes so that the planet, and people benefit. They use mycelium which is the root system of fungi, to break down waste, and create panels that can be used in construction, like a replacement MDF.
Biohm has already won a number of national awards, and are supported by a number of organisations shown here in this picture taken from their website.
The beauty of this technology is that is uses nature to solve our problem of waste and creates environmentally positive new products. It is clean, quiet, and simple. This way of producing commercially viable materials is very new, but not unique. New York based Ecovative create packaging from mushrooms, and MycoWorks create a kind of ‘vegan leather’ from mycelium. The environmental credentials are so good that it is an industry set to (excuse the pun) mushroom quickly in the future. To have the first UK based facility in Watchet, leading the way in producing construction boards from mycelium is a very special thing. In fact, Biohm are so nationally interesting they have already been featured in a BBC documentary.
Onion Collective’s role in this process is to partner with Biohm, to ensure the set up of the site at the Paper Mill, to work closely with them in the pilot phase (16 months) and ensure that this industry is of real community benefit. This process has already begun with the Community Panel who have already been meeting and will help to guide the future of the company. The pilot phase started in June this year, and by October 2020 we look at what has been successful, and how and whether we should or can scale up to a full facility.
During the course of this year we will be running a facility that will take fresh agricultural waste from businesses (for example perhaps coffee chaff from Miles, or corn husks from local farms) and use mycelium to turn it into insulation panels which can then be sold on and used by construction companies.
At the same time Biohm will also be researching whether and how mycelium could be used to break down plastic. This is exciting and ground-breaking work, and is funded by Waitrose's Plan Plastic. This work is supported by a number of leading universities, and has already caught the eye of government who are keen to support this type of innovation. We are proud that this kind of cutting-edge research and technology can be brought to West Somerset.
Two years ago, we asked the question: "what might a future proofed new industry for Watchet be?" We imagined it might be something to do with construction, or recycling or supplying a product others need. The answer?
Nature is often the answer, we need to remember this more often.
Come and be part of the discussions with Onion Collective and Biohm, find out more and ask questions at our open public meeting on:
Thursday 11th July, 6.30pm at the Methodist Church, Harbour Road, Watchet.
This project has been funded by: