Does science stop at the manufacture of plastic only?
As a result of our excessive consumption in recent decades, the risk of plastic pollution and the resulting harms has escalated, particularly with the increasing production of large volumes of accumulated waste that is difficult to dispose of. Plastic pollution is not only a threat to humans; it also poses a threat to marine species, who pay the price for humans' excessive use of plastic. Is it possible that scientific development will come to a halt at the point where plastic can no longer be manufactured without looking for solutions to its pollution and accumulation? Obviously not.
Scientific research is currently racing to develop alternative types of plastic that self-degrade or scientific solutions that contribute to the disposal of collected waste in relatively safe ways, as science is a continual activity that aims to improve our lives. We will discuss the most recent scientific research that has come up with a solution to the problem of plastic waste accumulation:
- Bacteria in the guts of larvae: Researchers have recently discovered that a variety of digestive bacteria that break down plastic reside in the intestines of several species of larvae that eat polyethylene plastic, and that mixing old plastic with a similar mixture of bacteria can speed up the decomposition process. Furthermore, according to Anisha Navlekar, a co-author of the study from Texas Tech University in Lubbock, some of these bacteria infiltrate the oceans and help decompose plastics.
- Plastic-digesting enzyme: In yet another scientific breakthrough, experts from the United Kingdom and the United States collaborated on the development of a plastic-digesting enzyme, which will aid in the fight against past and future pollution. This enzyme can decompose polyethylene terephthalate, a form of plastic used in millions of tons of plastic bottles that can endure hundreds of years in the environment and pollutes vast expanses of land and sea across the world.
These enzymes are non-toxic, biodegradable, and can be made with enormous volumes of microbes, according to University of Melbourne chemist Oliver Jones; however, research on them is still in its early phases.
The aim behind enzymes is to use them in industry to convert the most often used plastic materials into their primary building units, making recycling easier and more sustainable. Enzymes will thus play a key role in addressing the growing waste problem in the environment.
- Bioplastics: Scientists from the University of Bath's Center for Sustainable Chemistry Technologies have succeeded in creating a biodegradable plastic that, unlike petroleum-based polycarbonate plastic, can be recycled.
Without the use of toxic chemicals, this material is created by adding carbon dioxide to a natural sugar termed deoxygenated thymidine under low pressure and at room temperature.
This is not the first attempt to develop biodegradable plastic, but what sets this scientific achievement apart is the ability to decompose this form of plastic using bacterial enzymes in the soil, and unlike prior attempts, this decomposition process does not require high temperatures. Most of it decomposes at temperatures around 50 degrees Celsius, prompting the UN Environment Program's senior scientist to brand it a "false solution."
World Economic Forum.