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The Plastic-Eating Bacteria



  May 03, 2024

The Plastic-Eating Bacteria



1. What percentage of plastic ever made has been recycled?

Only 9% of the plastic ever made has been recycled. Most plastic ends up in landfills or pollutes our waterways.


2. How much plastic enters the ocean each year?

Over 12 million metric tonnes (Mt) of plastic enter the ocean annually, contributing to the existing 362 million Mt.


3. What are microplastics, and why are they a concern?

Microplastics are small particles that break off from larger plastic items. They enter the food chain and pose significant health risks to marine life and potentially humans.


4. What innovative solution was discovered in 2016 to address plastic waste?

In 2016, scientists in Japan discovered a bacteria named Ideonella sakaiensis, which naturally evolved to break down a type of plastic called PET (polyethylene terephthalate), commonly used in water bottles and food packages.


5. How do bacteria like Ideonella sakaiensis break down plastic?

These bacteria produce an enzyme called PETase, which breaks down the strong bonds in PET plastic into monomers. The bacteria then use these monomers for energy, similar to how humans digest food.


6. What are the limitations of using bacteria to break down plastic?

The main challenges are the vast amount of plastic waste and the slow rate at which bacteria digest plastic. Additionally, certain enzymes needed for this process only function effectively at higher temperatures, which are not present globally.


7. What recent discovery offers hope for breaking down non-biodegradable plastics?

In February 2023, research suggested that waxworms, specifically their gut bacteria, might help digest low-density polyethylene (PE), a common plastic used in shopping bags and bubble wrap.


8. Can the waste produced by plastic-eating bacteria be reused?

Yes, the monomers produced as waste by plastic-eating bacteria can potentially be recycled into new plastic objects, as demonstrated by a recycling plant in France that uses this process to create PET products.

These FAQs provide a concise overview of the significant issues related to plastic pollution and the innovative approaches being explored to mitigate this environmental problem.


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