Plastic has become part of our life. We are drowning in it. 311 million tons, probably more, are produced all over the world just in one year. 10 % of the plastic is recycled, a tiny amount against the ever growing plastic menace. The rest is used as landfills, ends up as litter on land and in the ocean where it stays for decades or maybe longer.
At a plastic recycling plant in Japan, scientists have found a bacteria that has evolved to consume the most common type of plastic.
Ideonella sakaiensis 201-F6 can degrade poly ethylene terephthalate), commonly called PET, in as little as six weeks, reported in a new paper published in the journal, Science.
Common uses of PET include polyester fibers, disposable bottles, and food containers.
This study evaluated if the bacteria in question could degrade PET and was conducted under laboratory conditions.
More research has to be done in order to make this a practical solution to plastic pollution.
In the experiment, the researchers controlled the situation so the bacteria ate the plastic, but in nature, they might have many options for food.
This research is in its infancy there are many questions. Per example,
the trillions of tons of plastic particles amassing in the oceans might be an other type. Also Marine organisms have evolved to withstand the saltwater and sunlight that sediment-dwelling organisms might not.
Perhaps this bacteria could be harnessed to accelerate degradation of plastics that are used for landfill.
This study shows that the environment is evolving and the microbes evolving along with it as well.
Scientists were not surprised that the researchers found an organism that can consume PET. Just surprised that it took so long. They have been waiting for it.
This is not the first time researchers have found an organism that will eat trashed plastic. Last year engineers at Stanford University found a meal worm that can eat Styrofoam.
This does not mean that we should now double the plastic waste!