Plastic waste is a huge problem that is plaguing our planet. The numbers of the plastic we produce, discard, and of the amounts that end up in landfills and oceans are gargantuan. What does this mean for us? Plastic waste clean takes upon a considerable amount of tax payers money and deducts from the tourist economy as sites become polluted with plastic. This type of material doesn't degrade until somewhere between 500 - 1000 years. As a result there is plenty of it stacking up for animals to accidentally eat and die from.
Solutions: There have been a few scientific approaches to attempt to degrade plastic but they have either not been efficient enough or not researched thoroughly enough. These methods entail chemically degrading with heat and pressure. Some of the processes are thermal depolymerization, pyrolysis, hydrolysis, and more. They involve converting the plastic waste into usable oils and gases. These methods hold some promise but a lot of them are expensive to start, involve highly intensive capital, and do not receive enough funding. Now this leaves us with the prospect of biologically degrading plastic using fungi and bacteria. Mycelium, mushrooms, and fungi are all apart of kingdom that has evolved over billions of years to secret enzymes that can digest materials thought to be non-digestable such as rocks, oil, and toxic metals (such as mercury). You can "train" almost any mushroom to secrete enzymes to digest just about any substance by introducing the substance to it repetitively. This method is low cost, there is an abundance of the plastic eating substance, and it can be grown anywhere.
Here is some scientific literature about the type of plastic-eating fungi:
Next Steps: There is no question that more trials, lab tests, and research needs to be conducted concerning the latent potential of mushrooms. More labs need to be free to the public so that mycologist (those who study mycology: study of mycellium - molds, fungi, mushrooms), amateurs and professionals a like can make paradigm changing discoveries.
The reason why I wrote this was to look for a lab space and people interested in a cause like this to being conducting research and applying it. Even if these approaches don't appeal to most people, the cause does and we must address it because it is having an unfavorable impact on our environment and will start affecting us directly sooner than we think. I invite any help or feedback that I can get. I am a college entrepreneur student native of New Jersey but will connect with anyone, anywhere.
Hi Joshua. I am working in the Plastic Waste reduction industry, so if you have questions, ask away. Firstly though, there are as many Myths re problems with Plastic as there are problems. Most 3rd World Countries and Pacific Islands, Asia etc do indeed have major issues with Plastic. Sadly, those issues could be resolved very easily. Simply by throwing a bit of money toward the problem. But that just does not happen. It would not take a lot of money either. The plastic simply needs to be picked up and shipped away to be processed. But as no one wants to pay for that and even less want to work for free, having Plastics processed simply does not happen. There are ruffly 750 Commercial Plastic to Fuel plants around the World and possibly that many again, that are "backyard" operations. The single biggest issue with many Commercial Plants is, they can not get enough Plastic waste to process. For instance, Sweden cannot source enough plastic to fulfill their demand. So they are importing Plastic Waste form the UK. The UK has two huge plants and they cannot source enough Plastic either, so they are importing waste from China. Of course, if you are now having to source Plastic waste, it then becomes a commodity and then there is shipping costs and then economics come into it and the profits become rather thin. The investments are huge with these plants and so return on investment is important, or these plants will very simply, not be built, or the ones that are operating, will close down. OK, so all Commercial Plants make their money from selling the Fuel. With margins squeezed tight, the Fuel has to be made in the most economical way. Thus the two Plastic types used to produce fuel easily and cheap are Polypropylene and Polyethylene. There is very little post processing and cleaning of the Fuel required. All other plastics become a major expensive problem and so are not processed into Fuels. PVC when heated, produces about 50% of itself in Chlorine Gas. PET produces mostly Terephethalic Acid when melted. ABS is about 50% fillers(clay) Plasticsizers(makes the plastic hard, soft, flexible etc) and pigments and the real biggy, Fire retardants such as Bromine. The hydrocarbon fuel produced is Ethyl Benzene and that needs further processing into a usable Fuel. What I am involved in, is processing all these difficult plastics, finding a way to turn them into Fuels economically, finding other uses for the products these plastics produce and eliminating the Toxic/Hazardous by products produced. It's hard going, because no one wants to put money onto it and so I am working mostly with no to very little income. Sad, but that is the way it is. Our very meager funding comes from a financial charge we apply to an electrical appliance, like a TV or computer. But many people refuse to pay to dispose of the item and we often see these things dumped in rivers and etc. or taken to the Landfill. Your idea of micro organisms eating plastic is certainly a good one. It does in fact already happen in nature. Composting organic material with plastics mixed in to it, seems to break down the plastics. But the plastics I have seen included in Organic Wastes have been the PP and PE types. I do not know what residues ate left behind, which would then be introduced into the Soil. I assume that has been tested, but not sure. The other reasons why just those two plastics are introduced to Organic Waste for compost would be due to the PP and PE being a common plastic source in every day household use. Baby Diapers for instance. The non use of the other plastics would be because of the toxins that are present. Such as Bromine and Chlorine, which are both powerful disinfectants and I doubt there would be many micro organisms that would cope with those two chemicals.
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Hi @Johudson1 -
I am very interested in this topic as well. Did you get any response regarding lab space or other interested parties to help conduct research? It seems like there was a flurry of news about the fungi when it was found in 2011, but since then there has been practically nothing about the progress of the research as it applies to our plastic problem. I'm hoping for an update as to how viable an option it really is. Is anyone currently conducting research? Has anyone invested in any technology? Any info you can shoot back to me would be great.
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