Originally published at the end of March 2020 in published in the journal Frontiers in Microbiology, a new strain of bacteria has been identified which is able to withstand harsh conditions, such as high temperatures or acidic environments, and is able to “eat” plastic. Yes, you read that correctly. This new strain of bacteria is able to feed on toxic plastic and, rather unusually, uses it as food to power the entire process.
Found rather accidentally at a waste-site where plastic had been dumped, the bacteria is the first that is known to attack polyurethane. This rather persistent form of plastic releases very toxic and carcinogenic chemicals when broken down. The toxicity is so strong that it would kill most bacteria. But not this one!
“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 have been produced since the 1950s, embodied in products such as nappies, kitchen sponges, sports shoes, etc. Almost all of it has ended in landfills or oceans because it is too tough to recycle. Scientists say it threatens a “near permanent contamination of the natural environment”.
Having found a solution to the problem is wonderful. But we are still 10 years from a production-ready capability to deal with such amounts of plastic at scale. In the meantime, Moving Beans offers a viable alternative by offering biodegradable and compostable coffee pods – all whilst not compromising on the quality of the coffee.