Scientists Find Microbes That Digest Plastic at Low Temperatures

Image copyright: EPA [via The Guardian]

The Facts

  • Scientists from the Swiss Federal Institute WSL have discovered fungal and bacterial microbes that can digest plastic at 15°C (59°F) and even lower temperatures. Existing microorganisms can only do so at 30°C (86°F).

  • Though they have only tested the microbes at 15°C — including 19 strains of bacteria and 15 fungal strains growing on free-lying or intentionally buried plastic in Greenland, Svalbard, and Switzerland — they say most of the tested strains can grow well between 4°C and 20°C.

The Spin

Narrative A

As microplastics are now found littered throughout the seas, the Arctic, the air we breathe, and even in our blood, it's past time that we figured out a way to rid them from our planet. This discovery could lead to cost-effective and environmentally friendly ways of biodegradation, so hopefully, scientists are close to achieving this long overdue step in combatting pollution.

Narrative B

While innovation in biodegrading and biodegradable plastic is making headway, the goal of being able to instantly recycle or compost plastic is still far away. Throwing away excess food also hinders the goal, as food and plastic currently cannot be processed simultaneously and thus get thrown into landfill rather than biodegrading plants. Technology that allows people to biodegrade their plastic at home must be invented, or the majority of plastic will continue to end up in a landfill or floating in the sea.

Articles on this story

Sign up to our daily newsletter