This month heralds a world-changing scientific breakthrough as a teenage prodigy has developed a new way to decompose plastic bags in just three months! A 16 year old named Daniel Burd conducted his experiment as a science fair project, and ended up with a revolutionary solution to the plastic plague that has laid waste to ecosystems around the world. By isolating the microorganisms that break down plastic, Burd’s research has yielded an industrially scalable way to cinch closed the material’s millennium-spanning life-cycle.
Plastic bags, once icons of customer convenience, cost more than 1.6 billion barrels of oil per year and leave the environment to foot the bill. The statistics are scary – each year the world produces 500 billion bags, and Earth Resource Foundation states that “all the plastic that has been made is still around in smaller and smaller pieces.” Meanwhile the UN Environment Program estimates that there are 46,000 pieces of plastic litter in every square mile of ocean, and a swirling vortex of trash twice the size of Texas has spawned in the North Pacific.
We’ve seen plenty of progressive legislation that targets the production and distribution of plastic bags in Ireland, Israel, San Francisco, and China. Daniel Burd’s breakthrough provides a method to deal with the billions of bags already in existence and wreaking havoc on wildlife, soils and oceans.
The discovery hinges upon Burd’s isolation off two strains of bacteria (Sphingomonas and Pseudomonas) that work together to consume polyethelene plastic at record rates. His experiment yielded a culture that rendered plastic bags 43% decomposed after six weeks, with the only outputs being water and an infinitesimal amount of carbon dioxide. Burd has said that the system is cheap, energy efficient, and easily scalable for industrial applications. “All you need is a fermenter . . . your growth medium, your microbes and your plastic bags,” stated the young innovator.
Thanks to Daniel’s research, we have a solution to the plastic plague. All we need now is the infrastructure in which to apply it.