There are not really any environmentally safe forms of plastic out there. But a plastic type that’s called PET is considered the most toxic and nefarious because it really doesn’t break down. Unfortunately, this plastic fills our landfills, where it would be destined to sit for hundreds of years were it not for a recent scientific breakthrough.
A new microbe that scientists have discovered eats this PET plastic and breaks it down, potentially being the game-changer that waste management industries have been seeking.
Each year, more than 300 million tons of plastic are created. But just 14% is recycled, say experts. Over 60 tons of PET plastic was created in 2013, and probably won’t breakdown until some point in 2213.
A certain type of fungus has been found to help break down the plastic, but it’s very rare and difficult to procure. Japanese scientists have discovered new bacteria, however, that eats the plastic at an impressive rate, converting it into water and carbon dioxide.
Using 250 samples of PET, scientists were able to scan the debris, which led to the discovery. The bacteria has been named Ideonella sakaiensis 201-F6. It is able to eat the plastic in just six weeks, providing that the temperature is 86 degrees Fahrenheit or higher.
The reason it can eat the PET is because it has two enzymes that help break it down. One uses water to break it down while the other attacks the structure. In the future, bio degrading could become a new reality, helping us remove uncountable tons of waste from our planet safely.
Still, more research is needed to get this plan into place. The great news is that someday not too far from now, landfills could really become holding tanks for plastic goods that are ultimately steeped in water and inundated with bacteria. Six weeks later, bye-bye plastic waste.
Now if only they could figure out as nifty a system for eradicating human waste, we’d really be on to something.