Enviro-Monday: A strain of bacteria that can eat plastic

The species fully breaks down one of the most common kinds of plastic called polyethylene terephthalate (PET). It’s the type often used to package bottled drinks, cosmetics and household cleaners.


In what may be helpful in reducing waste everywhere, bacteria have been accidentally discovered that are able to digest polyethylene.


A Chinese researcher, Jun Yang, found that plastic bags of millet in his pantry had small holes in them. Intrigued, he also found moths and moth larvae in the bags. Deducing that the hungry larvae must have digested the plastic somehow, he and his team analyzed their gut bacteria and found a few that could use plastic as their only carbon source.

Not only could the bacteria from the guts of the plodia interpunctella moth larvae metabolize polyethylene, they degraded it significantly.

Yang and his team were the first in the world to show chemical evidence of bacteria that can actually degrade plastic. They inspired other researchers to search for more polyethylene-chewing bacteria in a host of other insect larvae around the globe.

More plastic in the ocean than fish by 2050


A World Economic Forum (WEF) report, based on analysis of 20 studies and interviews with 180 experts, says only 14% of plastic packaging is collected for recycling. If a solution is not found, there will be more plastic than fish calculated by weight in the world’s oceans by 2050.

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