Plastic-Eating Fungi!

Global warming gets all the hype lately in the discussion on our impact on the environment, and while it is a huge problem it tends to push the littering and plastic problems to the background. Every year the world use enough plastic to circle the globe four times. And, if that isn’t bad enough only about five percent of the plastic gets recovered. Plastic accounts for around ten percent of the total waste we produced every year. And our plastic consumption doesn’t seem to be slowing down anytime soon.

Plastic doesn’t easily break down and can be found in nearly every corner of the planet. It fills our landfills and makes its way into our oceans. With plastic being used to manufacture everything from clothes to water bottles, it’s easy to see how it has become so dangerous to our planet.

Luckily, there may be a solution to our plastic problems. For years we have known that the Amazon jungle holds a host of plants, fungus, and bacteria that could help us solve many of the world’s problems. And, lucky for us a bacteria has recently been discovered that may be able to combat the huge amount of plastics that are piling up all over the world. In a 2012 report in the journal Applied and Environmental Biology, a research team from Yale documented their findings from an expedition to the Amazon where they found a bacteria that has the ability to break down Polyurethane, one of the most common plastics in the world.

The fungus, pestalotiopsis microspora, can survive on only polyurethane. And, if that wasn’t amazing enough it can do it in an oxygen free environment. This makes it perfect for breaking down plastic at the bottom of landfills.

And, more recently a bacteria has been found that can break down PET (polyethylene terephthalate.) The bacteria was found inside a recycling plant in Japan. Inside a controlled environment, without another food source, the bacteria can break down PET in as little as six weeks. It is still unknown if it will still be as effective as in nature where it has other sources of nutrients to choose from.

While both of these may help us in our battle against plastic pollution they won’t be our ultimate solution. It is up to all of us to take action against pollution. By recycling and using less plastic in our everyday lives we can cut back on the damage plastic causes. Only by being more aware of our impact on the environment will we truly make any sort of change. It does seem, however, that nature may be working on a solution to a problem we caused.

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