In a Japanese landfill, something thought to be impossible has been evolving: bacteria have developed the ability to break down plastic! When scientists discovered this new ability, they set to work to harness this new power. Could these little bacteria hold the key to helping solve the world’s plastic problem?!
Normally, it takes 450 years for plastic to break down completely. So, that means if plastic were around back in Leonardo da Vinci’s day, his bottles would just be breaking down now. Crazy, right?
But, by studying these remarkable little creatures and their newly adapted ability, scientists have been able to boost their plastic-gobbling power and give us a fighting chance in cleaning up the planet’s plastic!
Big Problems DO Have Solutions!
One million plastic bottles are purchased around the world every minute! 1 Let that sink in…1 million plastic bottles. Every. Minute.
What’s happening to all that plastic?
Despite our own best personal efforts, only a small fraction (9%) of it is actually getting recycled, 2 and the plastic that does is often less desirable to manufacturers. So, even recycling has its great flaws.
But don’t worry, this isn’t a story of doom and gloom; we just have to know the “big” facts in order to understand how incredible it is that we may have a solution to one corner of this immense problem!
And yes, it all starts with those little bacteria!
You see, by studying these plastic-eating mutants, scientists have not only found out how these little guys have this incredible ability to break down material, they’ve been able to enhance this plastic-decomposing power to break down plastic into its original, most basic chemical parts! The end result would allow manufacturers to use these broken down bottles again and again as if they were a fresh material. This means we would no longer need to use fossil fuels—how we make plastic now—to make “new” plastic products!
How does this all work? And what does this mean for the future of our planet’s plastic problem? Well, here’s a great video from Seeker to get us up to date with the latest science!
If you want to dive deeper into the cutting edge of scientific discovery, pop over to the Seeker YouTube channel! They have a library of great videos to get you up to date!
A new recipe for reducing plastic!
Will these super enzymes be the single savior to solving the world’s plastic woes? Definitely not. But they do offer us a viable solution that, if combined with others, can really start to change things!
We could break the cycle of using fossil fuels to create new plastics, and start to close the loop on existing plastics while we reduce our plastic dependence! This would give us some real steps towards a lasting solution.
If you’re interested in getting started with reducing your plastic use, take a look at these two articles! They will set you off in a direction towards reducing your plastic that is actually attainable, without requiring a drastic change in lifestyle.
As with any great change, it’s all about progress.
We’ve been addicted to using plastic for years now. Have you seen those single-wrapped bananas or potatoes?! But we can start to make a measurable difference in this problem by finding new ways to deal with our existing plastic, changing our habits around it, and making it more attractive than ever for big companies to change their ways. (They’re the ones who can make the BIG difference!)
The more we support companies, organizations, and research that are working to attack all corners of our plastic waste problem, the more progress we can make!
Already, scientists are utilizing some of the world’s most harmful greenhouse gasses to create biodegradable plastics on an industrial scale. Organizations like Precious Plastic are creating resources to make recycling plastic possible around the globe, and major companies are backing innovators who are setting up ways to recycle plastics before they harm ocean life. One remarkable movement has even turned plastic into a form of currency!
Progress is happening when it comes to changing the world’s perspective on plastic, and we are all a part of it!
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- “Our Planet Is Drowning in Plastic Pollution. This World Environment Day, It’s Time for a Change.” Unenvironment.org, 2018, www.unenvironment.org/interactive/beat-plastic-pollution/. Accessed 7 Dec. 2020. ↩
- Geyer, Roland, et al. “Production, Use, and Fate of All Plastics Ever Made.” ResearchGate, unknown, July 2017, www.researchgate.net/publication/318567844_Production_use_and_fate_of_all_plastics_ever_made. Accessed 7 Dec. 2020. ↩
- Seeker. “This Mutant Super-Enzyme Can Eat Plastic Waste Within Days.” YouTube, 19 Oct. 2020, www.youtube.com/watch?v=oNkk3JPYd6s&feature=emb_title. Accessed 7 Dec. 2020. ↩