Plastic is one of the most commonly used materials around us. Whether it is the straw you use for having your favorite beverage at a restaurant or a container to store your leftover dinner at home, plastic is all around us. After all, it is convenient, lightweight, durable, and versatile. But did you know that plastic is one of the biggest contributors to environmental pollution?
It stays in the environment for hundreds of years and is a huge threat to wildlife, and contributes to global warming. Unfortunately, humans do not realize the danger, and every year, they throw enough plastic that can circle the Earth four times. And the worst part is only 9% of the plastic that the world produces is recycled. The percentage is higher in the U.S. that recycles around 25% of its plastic waste.
But here is good news. Scientists have discovered plastic-eating bacteria that break down plastic waste and use the broken down form of plastic to fuel the process. In this post, we look at why plastic recycling is important and how this latest discovery can change the future of plastic recycling.
Why Is It Important To Recycle Plastic?
You may be aware that plastic recycling is essential, but most people don’t know why. Let’s take a closer look at a few reasons why plastic recycling is critical.
#1. Plastic Waste Makes up a Huge Amount of Solid Waste
If you look at the statistics, plastic makes up more than 12% of the total global solid waste. In numbers, it is equivalent to 30 million tons. Unfortunately, all the plastic waste is dumped into landfills along with other types of solid waste. Given that most plastics can be recycled, dumping them into landfills is one of the worst things for the environment as we are already running out of landfills.
#2. Plastic Does not Break Down Easily and End up in the Food Chain
If you leave plastic waste to degrade on its own, the process can take up anywhere between 500 to 1,000 years. And in this centuries-long process, it continues to occupy landfills on land, contaminate the ocean, and be a threat to wildlife. Moreover, it seeps into the food chain and eventually causes damage to humans and the environment.
#3. Plastic Recycling Can Conserve Energy and Protect the Environment
Another critical reason why plastic recycling is important because it conserves energy. Recycling plastic takes up around 80% less energy than manufacturing plastic from scratch, saving a lot of energy while helping the environment.
How Much Plastic Actually Gets Recycled?
While we are all aware that plastic recycling is important and brings several advantages to the environment, only a minimal amount of plastic gets recycled. If you look at the statistics, the world produces around 381 million tons of plastic every year. Approximately 50% of the plastic waste comes from single-use plastic.
Unfortunately, only around 9% of the total plastic produced around the world is recycled. The numbers are slightly higher for the U.S. The country recycles around 25% of the plastic waste it produces. However, a lot more plastic waste is combusted with energy than is actually recycled. While plastic combustion is used to eliminate plastic waste, it is not an environmentally friendly alternative.
It is due to this reason that scientists and researchers are looking for natural solutions for plastic degradation.
The Ground-Breaking Discovery – Plastic-Eating Bacteria
German researchers have identified a specific strain of bacteria, known as pseudomonas bacteria. The strain was discovered at a landfill loaded with plastic waste, where the bacteria specifically attacked polyurethane. Given the current techniques of recycling, decomposing polyurethane is quite difficult and energy-intensive. Moreover, if left untreated, polyurethane can decompose naturally very slowly while releasing toxic chemicals that can contaminate the soil and disturb the ecosystem.
The specific bacteria that can break down polyurethane is known for withstanding harsh weather conditions and survives well in acidic conditions.
The global demand for polyurethane is on the rise, which shows that this type of plastic will eventually become a part of the environment and need to be recycled. In such circumstances, it is best to find solutions for naturally decomposing plastic waste instead of relying on methods detrimental to the environment.
While the research is still in its preliminary stages, it is a groundbreaking discovery of plastic-eating bacteria can change the future of plastic recycling.
How Are Natural Solutions Better For the Environment?
Natural solutions such as super-active enzymes and plastic-eating bacteria for reducing plastic waste are much better for the environment than other methods such as combusting for energy. Natural solutions do not produce potentially dangerous compounds that can be detrimental to the environment, so they are often a safe alternative.
Several European countries and Japan are finding more about plastic-eating bacteria and using them for plastic recycling. However, super enzymes and plastic-eating bacteria are only one aspect of reducing plastic waste. The most critical element remains to limit the usage of plastic to tackle the problem at the source.
Tips For Eliminating Single-Use Plastics At Home
Since single-use plastic contributes around 50% to plastic waste, check out some of the easy ways to reduce your waste.
- Eliminate the use of plastic straw,
- Invest in a reusable bag,
- Give up on your gum,
- Go for household products that come in boxes instead of bags and bottles,
- Make your DIY cleaning products,
- Have a reusable cup for your caffeinated beverages,
- Avoid buying processed and frozen foods as they are packed in plastic,
- Use fresh lemon juice instead of the store-bought bottled alternative,
- Use cloth diapers instead of disposable diapers,
- Invest in a razor with replaceable blades.
Plastic eating bacteria is a groundbreaking discovery that could change the future of plastic recycling. However, the most important aspect of managing plastic waste is to minimize the use of plastic, especially single-use plastic.