Scientists find bug that feasts on toxic plastic
A bacterium that feeds on toxic plastic has been discovered by scientists. The bug not only breaks the plastic down but uses it as food to power the process.
The bacterium, which was found at a waste site where plastic had been dumped, is the first that is known to attack polyurethane. Millions of tonnes of the plastic is produced every year to use in items such as sports shoes, nappies, kitchen sponges and as foam insulation, but it is mostly sent to landfill because it it too tough to recycle.
When broken down it can release toxic and carcinogenic chemicals which would kill most bacteria, but the newly discovered strain is able to survive. While the research has identified the bug and some of its key characteristics, much work remains to be done before it can be used to treat large amounts of waste plastic.
“These findings represent an important step in being able to reuse hard-to-recycle polyurethane products,” said Hermann Heipieper, at the Helmholtz Centre for Environmental Research-UFZ in Leipzig, Germany, who is one of the research team. He said it might be 10 years before the bacterium could be used at a large scale and that in the meantime it was vital to reduce the use of plastic that is hard to recycle and to cut the amount of plastic in the environment.
More than 8bn tonnes of plastic has been produced since the 1950s and most has ended up polluting the world’s land and oceans, or in landfill dumps. Scientists ...
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