According to scientists at Michigan Technological University, chemical pre-treatments that tend to break down specific kinds of plastics can help naturally occurring microbial communities to quickly break down plastic waste.
The study will be presented at ASM Microbe, the annual meeting of the American Society for Microbiology, on June 12th, 2022, in Washington D.C.
The compounds that are derived from the chemical deconstruction of polycarbonate plastics or polyethylene terephthalate (PET) or the pyrolysis of high-density polyethylene (HDPE) plastic could be successful in retaining the growth.
The microbial communities’ genomes have been derived from multiple soils displaying that such organisms have the potential to degrade complicated carbon compounds, like those found in oil, plastics and gasoline.
Plastic breakdown with the help of chemical pre-treatment makes the oxygen, carbon, and hydrogen from the molecular structure of the plastic highly accessible for bacteria to utilize as food.
Bacteria grow quickly on this diet of deconstructed plastics and make more bacteria cells, effectively breaking down the plastic. We can use these plastic-fed bacterial communities to create lubricant and even protein powder, truly turning trash into treasure while taking a bite out of the plastic waste problem.
Dr. Stephen Techtmann, Associate Professor, Biological Sciences, Michigan Technological University
As per the United Nations’ Environmental Program, amongst the 6.3 billion tons of plastic made annually, 79% is accumulated in landfills. By 2050, plastic waste will have increased three-fold, taking tens of thousands of years to degrade.
The scientists illustrated that integrated biological and chemical degradation techniques could be utilized to efficiently degrade several kinds of plastic over a short period and may be a future avenue to quickly tackle plastic waste that has accumulated.
These finding supported our hypothesis that the natural environment is an untapped reservoir of microorganisms capable of degrading the building blocks of plastic, and that mixed microbial communities can simultaneously degrade mixed plastic waste inputs.
Lindsay Putman, Study Lead Author and Postdoctoral Fellow, Department of Biological Sciences, Michigan Technological University
Putman designed and headed the study.
The study has been financially supported by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency ReSource program cooperative agreement HR00112020033.