Plastic-Eating Bacteria May Save Our Oceans

Have Scientists Stumbled upon the solution to plastic waste?

May 16, 2018, Spencer Phade

Plastic. It has become so common place, most of us cannot imagine day to day life without it. Since its invention in 1907, it has become one of the most essential materials for mankind. However, it has not come without its downsides. The main and most pressing for humanity being the immense amount of waste.  

Long story short...

Plastic-Eating Bacteria May Save Our Oceans

Plastic waste is hitting levels that have never been seen before by mankind.  Normally, plastic items can take up to 1000 years to decompose in landfills. But plastic bags we use in our everyday life take 10-1000 years to decompose, while plastic bottles can take 450 years or more.

 

In 2016, a staggering 480 billion plastic drinking bottles were sold, and this number is expected to increase to 2021. The saddest fact is that less than half of these bottles were collected for recycling and just 7% were turned into new bottles. 

 

So where do the rest end up?

 

Unfortunately, it’s the ocean.

 

It is tough to estimate how much plastic already is in the oceans, but scientists now estimate that roughly 8 million metric tons of plastic makes its way into the ocean every year.

 

The problem is so far reaching that on a recent expedition to the deepest part of the ocean, the Mariana Trench, plastic was found to be laying on the ocean floor almost 36,000 under the sea.

 

So, what can be done about this immense global problem?

 

Well there are numerous NGO’s, governments, and private organizations are starting to address the problem and realize its true scope, scale, and severity. 

 

However, there was a recent discovery out of Japan that might be part of the key to solving the global plastic pollution crisis.

 

And what is their discovery?

 

Plastic-Eating Bacteria.

 

In 2016 it was discovered that a bacterium had naturally evolved to eat plastic at a waste dump in Japan. The scientists have now been able to understand and breakdown the enzyme produced by the bug that allows them to do so.

 

This could be a revolutionary breakthrough.

 

The enzyme currently takes a few days to start to break down the plastic which is decades and centuries faster than what is possible following the natural timeline of decomposition.

 

Where this shows true potential is if scientists are able to speed up this process and scale it up to handle immense quantities of plastic that is already in the oceans as well as the plastic before it is dumped into the environment.

 

One of the most exciting aspects of this discovery is the way that the plastic can be used. Right now, recycled clear plastic bottles can only be reused for other items like carpets and clothing. However, this enzyme would allow clear plastic bottles to be reused for clear plastic bottles which would be revolutionary for the plastic recycling process.

 

The one main competitor currently is the low price of producing plastic from oil products. At the end of the day, many companies will choose the cheapest way to produce their products and if the cost of using recycled plastic is exponentially higher, it will always be difficult or up to governmental bodies to encourage companies to make the more ethical and sustainable choice.

 

But as it stands, this process is only possible on a small scale. So, until then, think twice before throwing an empty plastic bottle into the trash. Because, you may never know where it will end up.

 


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