Plastic Eating Bacteria
Chinese specialists say they have recognized a blend of marine bacteria that seems proficient in breaking down polythene, one of the universal plastics on the planet and the origin of much pollution in the world’s oceans.
While the plastic-eating varieties of bacteria are now well known to the scientific community, the IoC, Chinese Academy of Sciences – Qingdao, is the first to confirm a direct link to polythene (PE).
In the research, which was issued in the Journal of Hazardous Materials on April 23, a unit led by Sun Chaomin said they had found a blend of bacteria that was capable of breaking down not only polyethylene terephthalate (PET) – from which containers are made – but also polyethylene, which is utilized to make woven bags and liners.
“Associated to the extensive investigations into PET-degrading bacteria and enzymes, analysis into PE degradation delays well behind,” the researchers said.
The unit said they added bacteria to specimens of PE – polyethylene and polyethylene terephthalate – PET. After repeated experiments, it displayed clear that an appropriate compound of three types of bacteria was causing “apparent damage” to the polythene film, including getting “many heavy cracks and wide holes.”
About 5 million tonnes of plastic waste are discarded into seas and beaches every year, and experts are keen to obtain an environmentally beneficial way to get rid of it.
According to the article, plastic pollution is accountable for the losses of nearly 1 million birds and 10,000 marine animals yearly, and PE and PET are amongst the worst offenders.
While scientists have recognized more than 430 microorganisms that can deteriorate many types of plastics, Wolfgang Streit, a microbiology professor at the University of Hamburg in Germany, was not included in the Chinese study, said the outcomes were interesting.
“[Scientists] have a good knowledge of how PET is degraded. We have enzymes for PET. But for PE, there is not a particular enzyme known that degrades it,” he said.
The degradation capacities of the mix of bacteria Sun and his team recognized were the “best I have ever seen,” he said but suggested that further research was needed.
“By simply becoming a bacterial community that degrades plastic, it is not simple to determine the specific bacteria and enzyme that does the work,” he said. “That is an extra couple of years’ work to develop down to that.”
Douglas Woodring, the founder and managing director of Ocean Recovery Alliance, a Hong Kong and US-based environmental organization, accepted the demand for more research and better management and corporate responsibility.
“While I am not discounting the process, we should not be excited and put all our confidence on one solution,” he said. “We have all of the technologies needed to fix the plastic pollution crisis today, but they are not being used.”
PET, he said, was “one of the simplest of all plastics to gather and recycle, yet we still hardly do it on a system that meets the volumes of bottles put into our economies.”