Plastics-Eating Fungus – Solution to the Plastic Waste Problem?

Mar 4, 2019

Fungus, the organism that causes worrying black patches in bathrooms, the petri-dish mould Alexander Fleming famously extracted penicillin from, the magic ingredient that makes blue cheese, truffle oil, and soy sauce so delicious, is increasingly being lauded as a potential solution to the problem of plastic waste.

Fungi for plastic waste report

 

 

 

 

Plastic waste and its adverse health and environmental impact is receiving considerable media attention. A National Geographic special cover and a Blue Planet episode directed by Sir David Attenborough raised public awareness and the number of google worldwide searches for “plastic waste” has more than doubled in the last year.

plastic waste solution

Google searches for “plastic waste” worldwide (search numbers represent search interest relative to the highest point of peak popularity, which is 100)

China’s plastic waste import ban created disposal problems in the United States and other Western countries, demonstrating how ill-equipped most countries are to deal with their plastics life-cycle.

Negative public sentiment and the economic burden of waste disposal have influenced many governments to introduce legislation to curb plastic consumption. This trend is not limited to well-developed countries. For example, Kenya introduced a ban in August 2017 threatening imprisonment or fines of up to $40,000 for anyone producing, selling, or carrying, a plastic bag. A year on, the success of the Kenya ban has influenced other East African nations to develop similar legislation.

Proactive development of cost-effective solutions to excessive plastic waste should be a key strategy of plastic producers to sustain the beneficial uses of plastics in the longer term.

Proposed solutions include substitution of conventional plastics with biodegradable plastic, effective recycling programs, chemical recycling(1), incineration, and packaging redesign. These ideas are being pursued with varying degrees of success(2), but there are two fundamental problems: Plastics derived from petrochemicals are relatively cheap to produce in the current oil environment, making it difficult for alternative bio-based polymers to compete without subsidies. The very properties which make plastic useful, such as robustness and longevity, unfortunately make them intrinsically challenging to recycle or biodegrade. The quantity of waste plastics entering the marine environment continues to increase as we struggle to find ways of slowing it down.

Plastics -“eating” fungus is an attractive idea as it offers a simple way to get rid of all the plastic currently cluttering up our cities, landfills, and oceans, without developing complicated recycling programs or technologies.

Fungi for plastic waste report