An exciting new paper appeared in the journal Science in March. Researchers in Japan searched for bacteria that could digest plastic. They sorted through 250 samples of PET, the plastic that soda bottles, water bottles and synthetic fibers are made of, at a plastic bottle recycling plant. The scientists isolated a never before known bacterium which they named Ideonella sakaiensis. They found that I. sakaiensis possessed two enzymes that enabled it to digest PET and turn it into environmentally harmless materials.
The bacterium, I. sakaiensis, gets a huge new source of food. PET plastic, identified by number one inside the recycle triangle, is one of the most common types of plastic produced. We get closer to solving the mountain-sized problems created by our plastic waste. More research on this bacterium and its special enzymes will hopefully lead to breakthroughs on plastic decomposition and recycling.
These little guys are slow eaters. It took a colony of I. sakaiensis six weeks to eat a water bottle. So don’t throw out your reusable water bottle yet, and keep using the BlueTube at your beach. Grab a bag from the BlueTube. Pick up trash. Throw it away.