Every year we generate more than 50 million tons of plastic waste globally. A bulk proportion of this waste is made of PET plastic in form of soft-drink bottles, water bottles, polyester clothing and blister packaging. PET, abbreviated for polyethylene terephalate, is notoriously known for being resistant to breakdown by microbes. The process of breakdown of materials by microorganisms is known as Bio-degradation and the target material is called Bio-degradable. But PET compound comes under Non-Biodegradable. Such items are harmful to environment as they stay for a long time in the ecosystem.

But fret not. A Japanese scientists has found a species of bacteria that eats the PET type of plastic. This discovery could lead to new methods to manage the 50 million ton plastic waste. To find the plastic-eating bacterium, the Japanese research team from Kyoto Institute of Technology and Keio University collected 250 PET-contaminated samples including sediment, soil and wastewater from a plastic bottle recycling site.

Ideonella-sakaiensis

Ideonella sakaiensis

Following the collection, they screened the microbes living on the samples to see whether any of them were eating the PET and using the compounds to grow. They originally found a colony of bugs that appeared to break down a PET film. But they eventually discovered that just one of bacteria species was responsible for the PET degradation. It was named as Ideonella sakainesis. The researchers report that a community of Ideonella sakaiensis could break down a thin film of PET over the course of six weeks if the temperature were held at a steady 86 degrees Fahrenheit.

plastic being eaten by bacteria

Mincer, who studies plastics in the ocean at the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution in Massachusetts, said the study was impressive and did a good job showing that these organisms were eating the plastic pretty well.  However, he said it was not immediately clear whether or not it would help keep plastics out of the ocean, for example.
“When I think it through, I don’t really know where it gets us. I don’t see how microbes degrading plastics is any better than putting plastic bottles in a recycling bin so they can be melted down to make new ones.”
Despite Mincer’s skepticism, this discovery is certainly a breakthrough in the field of science. If this process is commercialized, the use of plastic will no longer be a taboo.

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