Plastic-eating bacteria offers a biological solution for plastic waste

Sustainability |  < 1 min. read

That’s the look of a banquet – if you’re Ideonella sakaiensis – bacteria with a taste for plastic.

And that’s also the look of one solution, a biological solution to the problem of plastic that ends up in the trash.  Just eat it.

Scientists in Japan first discovered this bacteria, living in the dirt near a recycling plant.  Its secret?  An enzyme called PETase that eats plastic.

“PET” or “polyethylene terephthalate” is the plastic commonly used to make things like water bottles.  And that plastic starts with xylene, one of the basic petrochemicals which are used to make almost all of our plastics.

Now scientists in the UK have accidentally developed a super-ravenous version of PETase, which gobbles up water bottles in days, instead of weeks.

Next?  Well, how about combining plastic trash with plant trash to make better plastic.

U.S. Department of Energy researchers have done just that.  Instead of simply recycling plastic bottles, they’ve combined that plastic with materials from renewable bio-sources (like grass cuttings, wheat stalks or wood scraps) to make fiber-reinforced plastic (like fiberglass) that’s stronger and lighter than the original.

That plastic in turn, could be used to make parts for cars, surfboards and snowboards and even turbine blades for generating wind power.

Answers, like this one, to the question of “what do we do with our plastic when we’re done with it?” would have seemed more like science fiction than science fact just a few years. But there are a lot of smart men and women working in government labs, universities and companies in the petrochemical industry that are looking for and finding those answers.

And what they find, you’ll find reported here in these pages.  Stay tuned.