A Fungus Could Be One Key to Solving Our Plastic Waste Crisis

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iStock

An unusual strain of fungus found last year in a Pakistani garbage dump could one day provide a solution to our plastic waste woes. As Dezeen reports, the Aspergillus tubingensis fungus has the ability to break down the chemical bonds between plastic molecules in a matter of weeks rather than years.

The findings were presented in a 92-page State of the World’s Fungi report, published by London’s Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew [PDF]. The report cites recent studies showing that this particular fungus can help aid the disintegration of polyester polyurethane (PU)—a substance commonly used in refrigerator insulation, synthetic leather, and many other household products. The study, by Chinese and Pakistani researchers, revealed that A. tubingensis broke down the plastic in just two months.

Once the fungus attaches to a piece of plastic, it secretes enzymes that help the material degrade faster. There’s even a word for this fungi-based method of removing waste from the environment: mycoremediation. Fungi can also “feed” on radioactive waste, oil spills, and other toxic chemicals like nerve gas, Sky News reports. Mushrooms have even been used to create an eco-friendly faux leather. According to experts, 93 percent of fungal species are still unknown to science, so there may be other environmental uses for mushrooms that have yet to be discovered.

Of course, the fungi solution is only a stop-gap measure, as many experts have pointed out that plastic production is the real source of the problem. By some estimates, the amount of plastic that’s been created by humans is equivalent to 25,000 Empire State Buildings or 80 million blue whales. Only 9 percent of that waste has been recycled.

[h/t Dezeen]

Environmental Group Lets You Kayak European Waterways for Free in Exchange for Picking Up Trash

iStock/levers2007
iStock/levers2007

Between airfare, hotels, and dining out, not every traveler to Europe has room in their budget for a kayaking tour. GreenKayak, an environmental organization based out of Denmark, offers tourists and locals a way to explore waterways in some European countries for free—they just have to be comfortable with picking up some trash along the way.

As Lifehacker reports, GreenKayak launched its pollution-fighting initiative in April 2017. The concept is simple: Volunteers receive free kayak rentals in exchange for using the trip as a chance to beautify their surroundings. Two hours of free kayaking time comes with a paddle, a life vest, a trash-grabber, and a garbage pail. In the past two years, GreenKayakers have collected close to 24,000 pounds of trash from lakes, canals, and rivers in Europe.

GreenKayak started its environmental project in Denmark, a country that's famous for its picturesque waterways. The initiative has since expanded to cities in Ireland, Germany, Sweden, and Norway. Anyone interested in taking a free boat tour and making the world a cleaner place can book a kayak for up to two people through GreenKayak's website.

Kayaking isn't the only way people can clean up polluted waterways in Europe. Amsterdam is home to the Plastic Whale: an open-air boat made from recycled material on which tourists can "fish" for discarded trash.

[h/t Lifehacker]

2624-Year-Old Cypress Tree Discovered in North Carolina Swamp

iStock/earleliason
iStock/earleliason

National Love a Tree Day on May 16 is a day to appreciate all the world's trees, but a bald cypress recently identified in North Carolina is especially deserving of recognition. As Live Science reports, scientists date the tree to 2624 years old, making it one the oldest living non-clonal trees on Earth.

For their study, recently published in the journal Environmental Research Communications, a team of researchers studied the rings of trees in North Carolina's Black River swampland to learn more about climate history in the eastern United States. Bald cypresses are known to have impressive lifespans, but after analyzing specimens in the Black River's Three Sisters Swamp, an area that's notable for its long-lived trees, the scientists discovered that cypresses can grow to be even older than previously believed. The 2624-year-old cypress tree they found predates the Great Wall of China and the Roman Empire. Other remarkably old trees, including a 2088-year-old cypress, were also identified in the same grove.

The North Carolina cypresses are old, but there are other types of trees that can grow to be much older. Clonal tress are genetically identical plants that reproduce asexually from a single ancestor. Old Tjikko, a clonal tree in Sweden, has a root system that dates back 9550 years.

Despite all that North Carolina's bald cypress trees have endured, their lives are under threat. The swamp where the 2624-year-old tree stands is located just 6.5 feet above sea level, which means that floods driven by climate change could damage its habitat. And though the grove is in a protected area, industrial runoff and logging that's happening nearby could impact the trees' health. North Carolina is considering establishing a Black River State Park where the trees grow to further protect the ancient natural wonders.

[h/t Live Science]

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