Researchers discovered Munching Bacteria which could degrade the plastic within a week.
Plastic is a material consisting of a wide range of synthetic or semi-synthetic organics that are malleable and can be molded into solid objects of diverse shapes. Plastics are typically organic polymers of high molecular mass.
Plastic recycling is the process of recovering scrap or waste plastic and reprocessing the material into useful products.
A durable plastic called PET is considered a major environmental hazard because it’s highly resistant to breakdown.
Now the group of Japanese researchers has found a potential new match for this hardy plastic: a newly discovered microbe that is astonishingly good at eating it. Bacteria display amazing adaptations that allow them to degrade even the strongest plastics. The researchers acknowledged that they needed to study the bizarre bacteria more.
The discovery was made public in a Science paper by a group of Japanese researchers. The team noted that the bacteria which can destroy the molecular bonds in PET plastics are new to science.
Prof Uwe Bornscheuer who commented on the research paper explained that the molecular bounds in PET are extremely strong. But, before they could spot a colony of microorganisms the team has to analyze hundreds of PET plastics.
While plastic bottles need between 450 years and 1000 years to biodegrade, PET plastic bottles never degrade. Researchers believe that the appetite for plastic was acquired as environment has become increasingly crowded with plastic in the last 70 years.
The team speculates that because the bacteria had only one source of food they had to either adapt or die. So, they developed special enzymes that can digest even the toughest plastic.
Still, the bacteria had a harder time in munching on PET plastic which is commonly used to produce plastic bottles. Researchers believe that with a few weaks the bacteria could soon be used in massive clean-up operations and industrial recycling.
More than 30 percent of world’s plastics are discarded in the environment, while 8 million tons of plastic are dumped into the oceans every year. About one-sixth of global plastics are PET plastics.
Prof. Bornscheuer added that we are making progress with the new biodegradable plastics, but we need a solution for the existing non-biodegradable plastics, as well.
If Ideonella sakaiensis(bacteria) is stable enough, it could be used in pollution clean-up operations by spraying it on floating ocean trash just like in operations combating oil spills.