The bacteria can transform phthalates, which are a dangerous toxin used in plastics, into end products like carbon dioxide or water. A novel technology to break down the plastic material and thus make it biodegradable. A great advance to fight against a material, plastic, that (almost) never dies.
The bacterium has been developed by young scientists Miranda Wang and Jeanny Yao. They currently have two patents, and have already raised more than $400,000 in funding to develop the product.
I know some of you in the crowd are thinking, well, carbon dioxide is horrible, it’s a greenhouse gas. But if our bacteria didn’t evolve to break down phthalates, it would have used some other type of carbon source, and aerobic respiration would have led to end-products like carbon dioxide anyway.
In the process, first a solvent is used on the plastic, then enzymes catalyze the depolymerization of its base chemicals, breaking it down into more manageable compounds.
Its objective is to equip mobile cleaning stations with this technology, for example floating vessels to clean the seas, with 150,000 liters of biodigesters on board. The crew can load the tanks with Styrofoam and wait for the waste to degrade. Her main objective is to ensure that this process does not last more than 24 hours.
Wang and Yao have formed the BioCellection company. They want to start field trials as soon as possible, probably in China, to get a technology that can be commercialized in a couple of years. They want to improve the efficiency of the system to remove nine grams of plastic per liter of bacteria. In this way, 150,000 liters with bacteria can be cleaned for about $20,000.
And it is not something to take lightly, plastic pollution is one of the most serious problems in our society today. Our seas and oceans die from it, animals die from it, it is a deadly pollutant.