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Saturday, March 12, 2016

Plasticzilla Eats Global Plastic Waste

Thanks to the efforts of a team of Japanese scientists from the Kyoto Institute of Technology, a newly discovered bacteria may be able to eat all of our plastic waste.

Okay… I'm wearing green today, and I talk a good game about being environmentally green, and do my best not to litter and to separate my garbage, but I can't afford to purchase the most environmentally-green products out there.

I'm not cheap—I'm just not financially able to be as green as I could be.

As a packaging expert—apparently I am, thanks to my day job—I know that brand owners do not offer as much green product packaging as they could simply because they have already found that customers talk the talk, but refuse to walk the financial walk—refusing to pay for more greener packaging because costs dictate that it be more expensive.

I know this because I asked many packaging producers why the products they make aren't very green.

It's it's not just the downward dog of an economy either.

People are also stoopid.

A few years back—2010, actually, Sun Chips came out with a new 100% compostable bag. Brand owner Pepsi soon heard customers scream that the new packaging was excessively loud for their sensitive ears, and quickly pulled this environmentally green option from store shelves.

How many people actually complained about this? 10? Five? 10,000?

One-million dullards?
It's a bag of frickin' chips. Chips with laser beams on their frickin' heads! Aren't chips loud when you bite into them? They better be!!!!!! So what if the packaging is loud? How loud could it really be?!?!!!!!? Loud enough to be a prick to the environment?

Apparently so. Pepsi caved. I wish they hadn't. Still, I guess the negative press was too much. We can blame social media and the press and a few sensitive people for not being sensitive to the problem of packaging waste.

So… there's a wee bit of background. Packaging waste… what the heck do we do with it all?

When it comes to our plastic waste—the tons and tons of PET (polyethylene terephthalate) plastic that is made, used and tossed each year… aside from a fair bit of it going for recycling, a lot of it hits the landfills or is simply dumped into our oceans.

I know - WTF? The Oceans? Some environmentalists are saying that many non-first-world nations—because of improper garbage and recycling options—allow much of its plastic waste to blow around and end up in our oceans.

I don't think they mean Japan or South Korea - and definitely not the cleanest country in the world - Singapore… no… there's just this blanket statement about heavy amounts of plastic waste in the Ocean.

In North America and Europe, for example, I know we have extensive recycling programs—and trying to get better—doing its part. I can't speak for other parts of the world, but I'm pretty sure no one is traveling and being swatted on the head by discarded plastic bottles blowing willy-nilly in the wind.

I will assume that there is a huge pool of plastic wafting about the Pacific Ocean thanks to the tsunami that hit northeast Japan back in March 11 of 2011… but apparently other naughty nations are contributing to a global epidemic. No countries are ever named in media I have seen… but the facts are always thrown out there.

So… this Japanese scientist has found a new bacteria that will breakdown (eat) plastic waste entirely in a relatively short period of time.

Dr. Yoshida Shosuke (surname first) of the Kyoto Institute of Technology dug up debris and soil samples from a PET recycling facility and discovered the bacteria happily eating the plastic.

These bacteria had apparently developed an enzyme to help them better subsist in a PET-heavy environment. It ate the plastic as part of a carbon and energy source.

After leaving the bacteria alone in a glass jar with some plastic food material, Yoshida found that plastic was broken down in a few weeks time.

The bacteria—Ideonella sakaiensis—uses the enzyme to break down PET plastic down to its two basic building blocks of terephthalic acid and ethylene glycol.

I recall some decades ago hearing of a bacteria that ate oil, which could be used to help with oil spills in the oceans—Thalassolituus oleivorans—and as weird as it sounds, it has been doing good work cleaning up human mistakes.

There are also fungi that eat plastic—but us humans aren't able to produce them in great enough quantities where it makes a difference.

Yoshida and his crew have been able to reproduce more of these plastic-eating bacteria…

Of course… once all of our plastic waste has been consumed, and we find that the bacteria breed like rabbit bacteria… what will it consume next?

Coming soon to a continent near you: Hungry-hungry-bacteria.

Cleansing planet Earth for an alien landing party in the near future.

Kidding aside, it's a good story as far as green solutions go, right? Let's hope it's a success like the oil-eating bacteria, and not like the box-office success of Godzilla.

By the way... all that plastic waste floating in the ocean... uh... can that bacteria swim or are we going to have to next start developing tiny life jackets and vests?

Andrew Joseph

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