May 23, 2008
by: jovial_cynic

image: canal debris (cc) polandeze

It turns out that there is a bacteria that'll eat plastic bags, producing nothing but water and carbon dioxide. This is spectacular news.

Plastic takes thousands of years to decompose -- but 16-year-old science fair contestant Daniel Burd made it happen in just three months.

The Waterloo, Ontario high school junior figured that something must make plastic degrade, even if it does take a millennia, and that something was probably bacteria.

(Hey, at between one-half and 90 percent of Earth's biomass, bacteria's a pretty safe bet for any biological mystery.)

The Record reports that Burd mixed landfill dirt with yeast and tap water, then added ground plastic and let it stew. The plastic indeed decomposed more quickly than it would in nature; after experimenting with different temperatures and configurations, Burd isolated the microbial munchers. One came from the bacterial family Pseudomonas, and the other from the family Sphingomonas.

Burd says this should be easy on an industrial scale: all that's needed is a fermenter, a growth medium and plastic, and the bacteria themselves provide most of the energy by producing heat as they eat. The only waste is water and a bit of carbon dioxide.

Amazing stuff. I'll try to get an interview with this young man who may have managed to solve one of the most intractable environmental dilemmas of our time. And I can't help but wonder whether his high school already had its prom. If he doesn't get to be king, there's no justice in this world.


Max Hyland said:
It was bound to happen you know. You make enough "food" and leave it lying around, something will figure out how to eat it. lol
May 25, 2008

Matthew said:
See Also:
May 25, 2008

Bioplast said:
See Also
May 27, 2008

jovial_cynic said:
Max - true. My studies lead me to believe that there's always something that'll eat anything. Also - it's ant-season again. Woo hoo!

Matthew - there's nothing admirable about mockery. Satire is one thing... but direct mockery is generally viewed as a lack of imagination.

Bioplast (who I assume is Matthew) - creating a bio-degradable grocery bag is good... but I really think that discovering a critter that'll consume the existing plastic bag supply is far better. I'm just a little worried about the day when the great plastic plague breaks loose. Could you imagine if the plastic-bag-eating bacteria went airborne and began consuming the world's plastic supply? Every thing from laptop cases to medical equipment to drinking cups...

May 27, 2008

Max Hyland said:
Yes it is! And we have carpenter ants in our house, they flew males last weekend. :-p

Worse ways to find out you have an infestation I guess.

May 28, 2008

add comments. you are limited to 5,000 characters:

<< your name
<< your email (won't be displayed)
<< your website / location
<< type these numbers: 667491 (plus 0NE)

(html -enabled- / no scripts)

<< Comments temporarily disabled >>

Rules: Don't spam. Don't harrass. Don't be a jerk. Your IP address ( will be logged.