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

iStock
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]

Why You Shouldn't Crush an Aluminum Can Before Recycling It

iStock.com/FotografiaBasica
iStock.com/FotografiaBasica

Participating in your local recycling program is a great first step toward reducing waste, but tossing your old containers in the right bin is just one part of the process. To make sure your recyclable goods end up where they're supposed to be, you have to treat them right. That means resisting the urge to crush your aluminum cans, according to Lifehacker.

Stomping on an empty can may seem like a logical move: A crushed can takes up less space, which should make it easier to store and recycle. But recycling centers actually have a harder time processing cans that have been flattened.

Many recycling plants sort recyclable materials by shape. Small items tend to be marked as waste and sent to the landfill (which is why it's better to leave caps on plastic bottles when you recycle them). Flat items are usually sorted with the paper and cardboard, so when a can is crushed, it may be misidentified and end up contaminating a batch of paper items.

If you want your aluminum cans to be sent to the right place, leave them in their original 3D shape when you dispose of them. That way your local recycling center will have an easier time identifying the material. But if crushing cans has become a habit, you may be able to keep doing it without creating more waste. Some municipalities use multi-stream recycling systems which are able to recycle your cans properly no matter what shape they're in. So, if you use two separate bins for your recycling and live in a multi-stream recycling area, you can probably continue crushing cans to your heart's content.

[h/t Lifehacker]

Your Balloons Are Bad for Seabirds

iStock.com/Image Source
iStock.com/Image Source

Bad news, party planners: Your balloons are killing birds. A new study spotted by Live Science reveals that these colorful decorations often end up in our oceans, where seabirds mistake them for squid and consume them.

The team of Australian researchers studied more than 1700 seabirds belonging to 51 different species. One in three of the birds had plastic in their systems. Researchers also found that the birds had a 20 percent chance of dying after ingesting a single piece of debris. Though hard plastics were consumed in greater quantities by seabirds, balloons proved to be far deadlier. Eating them is “32 times more likely to result in death than ingesting hard plastic,” researchers write in their paper, published in the journal Scientific Reports.

“Marine debris ingestion is now a globally recognized threat,” Lauren Roman, who led the study, said in a statement. “Among the birds we studied, the leading cause of death was blockage of the gastrointestinal tract, followed by infections or other complications caused by gastrointestinal obstructions.”

The study also highlighted another startling statistic: 99 percent of all seabird species are predicted to ingest marine debris by 2050. That is of great concern in Australasia, which is home to the world's highest biodiversity of seabirds. Albatross and petrel species are particularly under threat, but the exact role that debris plays in that is not fully known.

Similarly, a survey from last December found microplastics in the guts of all seven sea turtle species that were studied, including the endangered green turtle and critically endangered hawksbill and Kemp's ridley turtles. However, these particles are smaller than balloon bits, and the consequences of ingesting microplastics are still being studied.

According to researchers, the most obvious and immediate solution is to reduce the amount of waste entering oceans.

[h/t Live Science]

SECTIONS

arrow
LIVE SMARTER