Did you know that globally, one million plastic bottles are purchased every minute!
Remember all those disheartening images of masses of floating plastic debris on beaches and in oceans. What is the common element in almost all these images? The plastic drinking bottle! Why?
Our soda, water and juice comes in plastic bottles that are hardly ever manufactured from recycled plastic and presently less than 15% of these bottles will ever get recycled, because the recycled plastic can only be used for polyester fibers used in carpets or fabric. (photo – EcoWatch)
Consequently, since these bottles do not biodegrade, they stay around for years, ending up in landfills or clogging our rivers and oceans in huge numbers. See the entire article in the Guardian.
A Beneficial Bug
Fortunately, a happy accident might offer hope in solving this problem. In 2106, bacteria was discovered in a Japanese landfill that had evolved naturally to break down the polyesters in plastic bottles. That was great news, unfortunately the natural bacterium’s appetite for plastic was slow acting.
A team of scientists from the UK and U.S. took the newly discovered enzyme and added amino acids to it, to determine how it had evolved. Serendipitously, they created a “mutant” enzyme that worked even faster than the natural enzyme that had been discovered in Japan.
A Serendipitous Discovery
“Serendipity often plays a significant role in fundamental scientific research and our discovery here is no exception.” Said John McGeehan a professor from Portsmouth that co-led the research.
The modified enzyme works by reversing the plastic bottle’s manufacturing process and reduces its building blocks so that it can be reused in a much broader spectrum of products. This opens up many more recycling possibilities making it much more financially sustainable. Researchers are continuing to improve the enzymes and want to apply the process on an industrial scale.
Regarding plastic “It is incredibly resistant to degradation.” said McGeehan, adding “It is one of these wonder materials that has been made a little bit too well.”
Caterpillars to the Rescue
Last year we reported on caterpillars that have an appetite for polyethylene, that’s the stuff that plastic grocery bags are made of and is one of the leading hazards to marine animals. Maybe by continuing to look to nature we will find more solutions to a very man-made pest.
See our article: Pest Potentially Provides Solution to Plastic Pollution Problem
By Robert Frerck, Blue Ocean Network
See These Related Blue Ocean Articles:
How To Get More Ocean-Hearted Intel Delivered To Your Inbox!
We believe ocean lovers can change the world. If you care about the health of the ocean and want to do something about it, then connect with the Blue Ocean tribe: Our growing community of ocean change-makers is turning ocean lovers into ocean leaders. It starts with you. Join us!