I was perusing my Twitter feed yesterday and ran across a collection of articles from Fast Company recapping innovative solutions to environmental issues. It’s a good collection, I retweeted it, but thought it also worthy of some discussion time on my humble blog. I will say the author of the summary article has a rather negative view of the environmental protection progress as of 2012 that I don’t necessarily share. (For instance, the Washington Post, among many others, reported in the spring of 2012 that the US is leading the world in CO2 emissions reductions.) One article in the collection caught my attention in particular. It was titled: Fungi Discovered in the Amazon will Eat Your Plastic. The subject was originally published in the journal Applied and Environmental Biology, July, 2011. From the Fast Company article:
“The fungi, Pestalotiopsis microspora, is the first anyone has found to survive on a steady diet of polyurethane alone and–even more surprising–do this in an anaerobic (oxygen-free) environment that is close to the condition at the bottom of a landfill.”
I recall reading a similar article some years ago about a fungus discovered in the south pacific during WWII that would quickly digest cotton and other plant based fibers (strichoderma reesei). The article identified this as an important finding for the industrial scale production of ethanols for use as synthetic fossil fuels. As we now know 2011 and 2012 were very productive years in the field of synthetic fuel development.
Where I am going with this is that, depending on the byproduct of this organic process, we may see a similar evolution of the industrial process for recycling plastics or even using spent plastics as feedstock for fuel production. It would be a huge win indeed for the environment to make the reclaiming of plastics economically viable. It will be interesting to keep an eye on this discovery to see if a solution for our real-world problem presents itself.