Scientists Discover Microbes That Could Revolutionize Plastic Recycling
Key Excerpts from Article on Website of Smithsonian Magazine
Posted: June 12th, 2023
High in the Swiss Alps and the Arctic, scientists have discovered microbes that can digest plastics–importantly, without the need to apply excess heat. Their findings, published this month in the journal Frontiers in Microbiology, could one day improve plastic recycling. It's no secret that plastic pollution is a big, global issue. Since its production exploded during and after World War II, humans have created more than 9.1 billion tons of plastic–and researchers estimate that less than one tenth of the resulting waste has been recycled. To make matters worse, the most common recycling option–when plastic is washed, processed and turned into new products–doesn't actually reduce waste: The recycled materials are often lower quality and might later end up in a landfill all the same. Researchers are looking for solutions to the plastics problem. One process they've experimented with is breaking down plastics using microorganisms. Enzymes from the microorganisms found in the Arctic and Swiss Alps ... were able to break down biodegradable plastics at 59 degrees Fahrenheit. "These organisms could help to reduce the costs and environmental burden of an enzymatic recycling process for plastic," co-author Joel RÄthi [said]. Of the total 34 types of microbes examined, 19 were successfully able to break down a form of plastic called polyester-polyurethane, and 17 could break down two types of biodegradable plastic mixtures.
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