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Scientists develop bacteria that eats plastics in 7 weeks

Scientists develop bacteria that eats plastics in 7 weeks

Two Hungarian scientists have developed a cocktail of plastic-eating bacteria that may alleviate the world’s pollution problems. 

Liz Madaras and Krisztina Levay, co-founders of Hungary-based biotech company Poliloop, said that the unique bacterial cocktail eats single-use plastic and transforms them into a brown liquid sludge that can be used as a soil improver. They said that the process takes seven weeks without prior chemical treatment or processing. 

“The degradation process is very similar to how those leaves disappear from autumn to springtime. A consortia of microbes biodegrade them. And this is what we were doing with our bacteria and fossils based plastics,” Madaras said.

A potential solution to the global plastic waste problem

The researchers declined to reveal the ingredients used in the treatment but said that if the cocktail can be produced on a large scale, it may have important implications on the global plastic waste problem. They admitted that this environmental issue prompted them to develop a solution that can bring plastic materials back into the natural life cycle. 

“Once we can biodegrade them, bring them back into the natural environment, they become part of nature again, become part of the global recycling system, not just the human one,” co-founder of Hungary-based biotech company said.

Madaras and Levay said that their process works for all types of plastic, which sets their bacterial cocktail apart from other works that degrade plastic materials. Other works are often focused on PET, a clear and lightweight plastic commonly used for packaging food products and beverages. 

“There are successful attempts with PET degradation, though. But in our case, we do all types of plastics from resin identification one through seven, and that includes other plastics as well such as multilayer packaging or mixed plastic blends.”

Madaras and Levay revealed their breakthrough amid worsening plastic pollution problems. Figures from the non-profit organization Plastic Oceans International show that the world produces 300 million tons of plastic annually. Half of these are for single-use purposes. More than 8 million tons of this plastic waste are dumped into the ocean each year, posing marine life threats. 

Poliloop now has an investment to build its first industrial plant to test the degradation on a larger scale. Additionally, they are experimenting with their cocktail with another type of fossil-based contaminants such as diesel.

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