These Entrepreneurial Bacteria Munch on Plastic Waste to Save the Environment

by on Mar 13, 2016

While tech startups and entrepreneurs are busy with investment pitches, marketing or scaling, here’s some more good news for the fish and the environment.

Plastic eating bacteria

Scientists in Japan have discovered an entrepreneurial bacteria that could help solve environment problems arising from the accumulation of non-biodegradable plastic.

The hungry  plastic eating bacteria solves the problem simply by dining on the plastic waste!  The findings of the research, headed by Dr. Shosuke Yoshida, from the Kyoto Institute of Technology were published in Science Journal.

Plastic has made human life easy, be it with its use in computer chips or providing convenience in everyday packaging and disposal affairs.

It is one of the world’s most popular materials because of its durability and low production costs. Its use is projected to almost double in the next 20 years. So, civilization’s love for plastic is not ending any time soon.

But its accumulation in the environment, clogging of oceans, and destruction of ecosystems is a global concern.

We still don’t have solutions to manage plastic waste effectively.

The world is waiting with bated breath for the holy grail of plastic waste management and these creatures – the plastic eating bacteria show some hope.

The plastic eating bacteria, Ideonella sakaiensis, can digest polyethylene terephalate, or PET, the ingredient found in many bottles and other disposable products.  311 million tonnes of annual plastic production involves the use of PET and about half of that is recycled.  The hope is that the plastic loving bacteria will munch on the other half.

Tests showed that the bacteria eats plastic within six weeks. This is a better agent compared to a fungi which also has an appetite for PET.

There are questions on the process efficiency, turnaround time and scalability.  Will they be able to digest the growing piles of plastic waste as fast as they are generated? Another question is whether the creatures would go and help themselves to the plastic that has already gone into the oceans.

With that said, it is pertinent to note that these inventions or discoveries make news and then we don’t get to hear about any further updates on them ever.

A few years back, I remember reading in the tabloids that someone in India discovered how to turn plastic waste into fuel.  That’s hitting two birds at one short – solves pollution as well as energy problem.  But whatever happened after that, no one knows.

At one time, it was even contemplated if the waste could be launched into space, where it may orbit the earth or even leave the orbit to continue traveling in space forever.  Understandably, the idea may have got killed as it is not economically viable.

For now, all hopes are on Ideonella sakaiensis.  Fingers crossed. Let’s hope this works.

If you missed my earlier article about a swimwear that cleanses water in the polluted oceans, you can read it now.

Meanwhile, here’s a video that shows some creative ways to reuse plastic, if you have the time and the skill.