Updated: Aug 4, 2021
Author: Jai hao Wu
Editors: Vincent Chang and Kira Tian
Artist: Nicole Tseng
Global warming has been a major problem for the past decade, but there are also other problems we need to address. One pressing issue is pollution, which has caused noticeable damage to the Earth, especially the oceans. Read on to find how plastic eating bacteria may turn the tables.
Plastic is commonly used for various applications such as construction, household, sports equipment, vehicles, electronics, and agricultural technologies. However, it is difficult to recycle plastic. Although people have been trying to cut down on the use of plastic, it is still a crucial problem to marine life. Each year, humans produce over 300 million pounds of plastic, and a minimum of 8 million tons are released into the ocean. It sounds small compared to the amount of water, but it makes up about 80% of all marine debris. By 2050, there will be as much plastic in the ocean as fish.
The common solution towards getting rid of plastic is recycling, which involves thermo-dynamic degradation. However, often the plastic does not break down into its monomers and instead leaves a more basic form behind.
A potentially better solution to this problem is plastic-eating bacteria. In 2016, Japanese scientists discovered a type of bacteria that could decompose plastic. The bacteria, Ideonella sakaiensis, can eat a special kind of plastic called PET, found in the plastic bottles we drink. However, this bacteria cannot negate all the millions of tons of plastic waste dumped into oceans each year. Even more so, releasing genetically modified and untested species into new environments can have severe consequences.
Scientists’ innovations provided a new path to prevent and remove the plastic. However, a more realistic approach would be a combination of various methods. Conventional recycling of plastic, plastic-eating bacteria, leaving plastic in landfills, and other ideas like dumping waste in space are all possibilities. But, for now, the best way is to stop throwing plastic out in the trash and to recycle them properly.
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