We produce 500 billion of Plastic bags in a year worldwide and they are discarded polluting oceans, killing wildlife and getting dumped in landfills where they take up to 1,000 years to decompose. Researchers have been unsuccessfully looking for a solution.
The 16 year-old Canadian high school student, Daniel Burd, from Waterloo Collegiate Institute, has discovered a way to make plastic bags degrade in as little as 3 months, a finding that won him first prize at the Canada-Wide Science Fair, a $10,000 prize, a $20,000 scholarship, and a chance to revolutionize a major environmental issue.
Burd’s strategy was simple: Since plastic does eventually degrade, it must be eaten by microorganisms. If those microorganisms, as well as the optimal conditions for their growth, could be identified, we could put them to work eating the plastic much faster than under normal conditions.
With this goal in mind, he ground plastic bags into a powder and concocted a solution of household chemicals, yeast and tap water to encourage microbe growth. Then he added the plastic powder and let the microbes work their magic for 3 months. Finally, he tested the resulting bacterial culture on plastic bags, exposing one plastic sample to dead bacteria as a control.
Sure enough, the plastic exposed to the live bacteria was 17% lighter than the control after six weeks.
Bacteria that degrades plastic: Sphingomonas and Pseudomonas
Once Burd examined the most effective strains of bacteria, he was able to isolate two types: Sphingomonas and Pseudomonas, as the plastic munchers. At 37 degrees and optimal bacterial concentration, the microbes had consumed 43% of a plastic sample within 6 weeks.
Almost every week I have to do chores and when I open the closet door, I have this avalanche of plastic bags falling on top of me. One day, I got tired of it and I wanted to know what other people are doing with these plastic bags.
The answer: not much. So I decided to do something myself.
— Daniel Burd
Industrial application should be easy, all you need is a fermenter, your growth medium, your microbes and your plastic bags.
The inputs are cheap, maintaining the required temperature takes little energy because microbes produce heat as they work, and the only outputs are water and tiny levels of carbon dioxide, each microbe produces only 0.01%t of its own infinitesimal weight in carbon dioxide.
This is a huge step forward. We’re using nature to solve a man-made problem.
Via The Record
Post author: Daniel Semper