Business Waste Disposal: Could Bacteria Eat Away Our Plastic Waste?
Business waste disposal is becoming more and more expensive in Australia due to the combined impacts of a landfill levy (in most states) that is designed to drive recycling.
On the other hand – recycling has become more expensive also – as China has recently closed the door on low quality recycling imports. Up to this year – Australia exported the vast majority of recycling collected through business waste disposal.
In 2018 – Australia needs to find new and reliable methods to treat and process recycling and general waste.
There are interesting developments in the area of plastic eating bacteria that we will cover today.
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We will get a bit into the science of why plastic is hard to decompose and what the bacteria in question actually do below.
The RTE.ie website reports that:
“Plastics are complex polymers, meaning they are long, repeating chains of molecules that don’t dissolve in water. The strength of these chains makes plastic very durable and means it takes a very long time to decompose naturally. If they could be broken down into their smaller, soluble chemical units, then these building blocks could be harvested and recycled to form new plastics in a closed-loop system.”
“In 2016, scientists from Japan tested different bacteria from a bottle recycling plant and found that Ideonella sakaiensis 201-F6 could digest the plastic used to make single-use drinks bottles, polyethylene terephthalate (PET). It works by secreting an enzyme (a type of protein that can speed up chemical reactions) known as PETase. This splits certain chemical bonds (esters) in PET, leaving smaller molecules that the bacteria can absorb, using the carbon in them as a food source.”
These bacteria can work at 30°C- which would make them suitable to be a form of bio-recycling plant.
Of course there is still a long way to go in this area.
Could there be negative side effects:
One thing that was very interesting was the potential negative side effects of this sort of technology.
In the same way that the miracle of antibiotics has led to super bacteria that are resistent to medical treatment – plastic eating bacteria could also get out of control.
If this bacteria got out of a recycling facility – which you have to assume they will – they could multiply and start attacking plastic structures in the outside world!
With plastic contamination of our natural environment becoming a bigger and bigger problem – as well as our inability to continue exporting low quality recycling to China – makes this science very interesting indeed.
Whilst this approach is at a very early stage – it is certainly something that should be included in a global and comprehensive plan for reducing plastic usage and effective business waste disposal.
You can check out an informative video on the topic below: