Here's Our Hope to Rid the Planet of Our Overwhelming Plastic Pollution

by Morgane Croissant Mar 15, 2016

It can take up to 1000 years for a plastic beverage bottle to decompose in the environment, but with the findings of researchers in Japan, there may be a new way for PET (polyethylene terephthalate) to breakdown a lot faster.

Ideonella sakaiensis, a newly-discovered bacterium, is a plastic-eating micro-organism that could solve the terrifying plastic pollution that is taking over our planet; indeed, according to The Verge, “in 2013 around 56 million tons of PET [the plastic used to make soda and water bottles] were produced, but only around half of the material is ever recycled”.

According to the study published in the journal Science, researchers found the hungry bacterium by isolating 250 PET samples from recycling facilities in Osaka, Japan and looking for signs of decomposition on these samples. They then discovered Ideonella sakaiensis, the micro-organism that uses a pair of enzymes to break down PET and turn it into a food source.

The process is currently very slow — it took about 6 weeks for the bacteria to completely break down a small, low-grade sample of PET — but scientists could artificially speed it up.

Despite the efforts produced to fight plastic pollution, be it through art or innovative garbage bins, this newly-discovered plastic-munching bug could be the solution to this concerning issue. That and reusable water bottles.

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