by Arjun Mehrotra
Plastic is one of the most ubiquitous materials ever. From our phones to our water bottles, plastic is all around us. It has a long life span, making it useful for storage. But what was once its biggest strength, is now its most fatal flaw.
Plastic releases toxic chemicals into the air and takes thousands of years to decompose. Decomposition is the process by which substances are broken down naturally, meaning that they eventually turn into soil and are good for the environment. When materials such as plastic cant decompose, it means that they will stay there, in our landfills and our oceans taking up space and releasing harmful chemicals. This leads to an unhealthy ecosystem that can be downright dangerous. According to plasticoceans.org, more than 10 million tons of plastic are dumped into our oceans annually. More than a million marine animals are killed each year, due to this substance and the poisons it releases into their homes. Scientists estimate that by 2050, there will be more plastic in the ocean than fish.
However, while things don’t look good for the Earth, there are still a few more solutions that may help us combat this evil polymer. Introducing Ideonella Sakaiensis, more commonly called the plastic-eating bacteria. The enzyme was first discovered in Japan,| in 2016, and has since then undergone many experiments to test the ropes and limits of its usage. . The bacteria is famously known due to its ability to eat polyethylene or PET, a very common plastic. Scientists have in recent years combined the plastic-eating bacteria with one that can eat cotton, thus producing a sort of “super enzyme” that could eat anything in a landfill. This is important because due to the lack of space in landfills most of them eventually get dumped into the ocean, so preventing this is essential.
A french company called Carbios has begun producing this enzyme and making demonstration plants to break down plastics. Carbios has partnered with companies such as Nestle and PepsiCo and could provide them with the necessary materials to recycle materials into their products.
While larger-scale industrial solutions using this bacteria are a few years away, its discovery could definitely help save our planet from plastic.