One of the reasons that plastic waste hangs around for so long is that it cannot be broken down by the organisms that happily munch on organic waste. An apple core thrown into the forest will be stripped to its pips in no time by creatures as large as a rat and as small as bacteria. A plastic bottle will lie there for centuries. Recently, researchers have become interested in organisms that have developed a taste for plastic. Plastic-eating bacteria, fungus and worms have all been discovered in recent years, and they could be a solution to our plastic waste crisis.
The species Ideonella Sakaiensis 201-F6 is believed to be a plastic-eating bacteria. It may have developed enzymes capable of breaking down Polyethylene Terephthelate (PET), the hard plastic commonly used for drinks bottles. Researchers envisage breeding (or possibly engineering) this plastic-eating bacteria, which could be sprayed on the huge plastic waste dumps that have formed in the world's oceans.
This is an interesting one: plastic-eating fungus. The developers of the Fungi Mutarium claim that by setting the correct environmental controls, edible fungi such as the oyster mushroom can be grown on a mix of agar and waste plastics. If true (no research on this plastic-eating fungus experiment has been published or peer reviewed) then perhaps we could all be growing our own mushrooms out of our plastic waste.
Styrofoam is generally thought to be one of the least biodegradable of plastics, but some plastic-eating mealworms could be about to change all that. Researchers at Stanford University have discovered that the larvae of the darkling beetle (commonly known as the mealworm) can subsist on a diet of the plastic usually used to create disposable coffee cups. These hungry mealworms actually have plastic-eating bacteria to thank for their unusual eating habits; microorganisms in their gut are able to break down the plastic compound into digestible molecules.
Dealing with Plastic Waste
These organic approaches to dealing with plastic waste are innovative and exciting. It is incredible to think that we could soon have the technology to engineer bacteria that could clean up our oceans, recycling plastic in a way that doesn't involve burning more fossil fuels. At Coda Plastics we deal with waste plastics in the most responsible way we can. We recycle our own (and other companies') waste into new products.
If you have an innovative idea that you think could be realised in plastic then don't hesitate to get in touch. Call us on +44 1692 501020.