Gallery: Scientific breakthrough decomposes plastic bags in 3 months!


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.

+ The Record



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  1. eujy June 18, 2010 at 8:21 am

    what organisms did you use to break down the plastic,please,that is also my research.

  2. Colocasia June 10, 2008 at 12:41 am

    More than 1.6 billion barrels of oil go into plastic bags per year? Wow. Wired magazine recently listed the global reserve of oil as 1,317.4 billion barrels (Source: Oil and Gas Journal). That means over 0.1% of the world\’s remaining oil supply is exhausted each year producing plastic bags. (Or perhaps it\’s 1.6 million barrels per year?) I\’ve been dutifully saving my bags; sequestered quite a cache. Will take them back to the grocery store to be recycled (they have to be recycled separately from other plastics), and start looking for a reusable bag alternative.
    Munching on plastic, as with any other carbon source, the bacteria will generate CO2 as a byproduct. Perhaps the CO2 could be vented off to feed a culture of biofuel-producing algae!

  3. Mike Benton May 30, 2008 at 1:47 am

    That\\\’s great but I\\\’d like to know the by product. What waste does the bacteria give off during this process? Can we can it and use the waste product for something else?

  4. sesshudesigner May 29, 2008 at 5:04 pm

    I think this is exciting news – but I, too, am worried about the possible long-term problems with letting massive amounts of micro-organisms loose (maybe I’ve been watching too many sci-fi horror movies, but the threat is there). It’s great to see someone working on the problem though – let’s hope someone takes it to the next step.

  5. Bijou May 28, 2008 at 9:19 pm

    Do these bacteria have a limited life? Could they continue to seek, or mistakenly find, beneficial polyethylene products. Could they also breakdown oil in its useful state? Please report on any detrimental after efffects we have all seen come to fruition with what might be seen as an “easy” answer.

  6. ebartz May 28, 2008 at 12:20 pm

    Wow, this is exciting! A 16 year old did this?! But I wonder where the money is in this – what’s the business proposition for decomposing plastic bags?

  7. Jennae May 28, 2008 at 10:37 am

    He is quite the prodigy, isn’t he? This is absolutely wonderful. I just hope that governments around the world take notice and do what needs to be done to implement this on a large scale.

  8. mikeyb66 May 28, 2008 at 7:53 am

    This is really great news although I fear this means people will take their eye off the problem. Lets hope that legislation is still introduced to reduce the production and use of plastic bags and that this new breakthrough is only used to clean up the planet. I hope that people don’t think that it is ok to throw bags away again.

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