Have you heard the one about the plastic-eating bug?
There are over five trillion pieces of plastic floating throughout our waterways worldwide. In an exciting development, researchers and bioengineers in both Australia and North America have identified certain types of bacteria and fungus that consume plastics. Could they be the key to eliminating litter in our oceans?
The production of plastic doubles every decade, according to the UN Environment Programme. So let’s take a look at microbes, single cell organisms, which include fungus and bacteria.
In 2012, the Yale University Rainforest Expedition and Laboratory discovered a strand of fungus, pestalotiopsis microspore, in the Amazon that will digest polyurethane (a key component of many types of plastic).
A kind of bacteria has also been discovered in the Sargasso Sea which also digests plastic.
It is still early days and further research is needed to determine whether or not these naturally occurring microbes will be beneficial to oceans ecosystem. It is possible that these microbes may just digest the plastics, and over time, pass the plastics on to marine life that then digest the microbes which are not visible to the naked eye.
But it’s something worth exploring.
If you want to do something to help now, rather than relying on bacteria, fear not! There are plenty of ways to chip in. Here in Sydney we already have groups and initiatives such as Responsible Runners and Take 3 which encourage people to clean up our beaches, waterways and parks, to prevent plastics and other litter entering the ocean. And we might soon see a ban on microbeads, which are causing a massive problem (don’t buy products containing microbeads!)
Sometimes, just changing your mindset into something active, rather than passive, can make of a difference than you’ve ever planned. So work with us to get those minds changed! Take a pledge not to litter; do a cleanup and change project near your favourite beach; and remember, we can come to schools and teach our kids what happens when litter ends up in waterways.