Will Science Ever Produce a ‘Plastic-Eating’ Bacteria?

We consider it part of our mission to stay abreast of what is happening in the recycling world with regards to scientific study. Recently, we have been quite interested in a number of research projects designed to create bacteria capable of breaking down plastic’s components. We find ourselves wondering if science will ever create the elusive ‘plastic-eating’ bacteria.

Just thinking about the possibility tickles the imagination. Try to picture it yourself: a recycling center where bale after bale of PET plastic bottles are waiting to be recycled. One by one, each bail is placed in a solution in which a genetically engineered bacteria is suspended. And one by one, those bales of PET are reduced by the bacteria to separate molecules that become their life-sustaining fuel.

Though it sounds too good to be true, there is a real possibility that a plastic-eating bacteria will eventually be reality. We could be less than a decade away from a genetically engineered bacteria capable of degrading plastics and feeding off the resulting constituents. Until then however, Seraphim’s efforts to recycle industrial scrap plastic in Tennessee, Arkansas, Indiana, Kentucky, Michigan, Missouri, and Ohio will continue.

Plastic Is Really Petroleum

At first glance, it might seem like a plastic-eating bacterium is an impossibility. After all, plastics are synthetics, are they not? They are in the sense that they are produced by humanity other than by nature. But the components that go into manufacturing plastics are still natural themselves.

For instance, did you know that most plastics are petroleum products? If so, did you also know that petroleum is a completely natural substance? Petroleum comes out of the ground. It is created by the natural decomposition of organic material. In other words, living things die and decompose. Their decomposition creates petroleum.

It stands to reason that reducing petroleum products to the molecular level would yield natural molecules that the natural world could utilize. That is the whole idea behind developing plastic-eating bacteria. If we can reduce plastic waste to its individual molecular components, it should be possible to either find or create living organisms that can utilize those molecules as food.

Concentrating on PET Waste

Much of the current research into plastic-eating bacteria is concentrated on PET plastic. This is not by accident. PET is the most abundant plastic on Earth. It is also the most easily recycled. It is so easy to recycle that we buy already baled PET bottles and turn them into reusable material ready to be sold to our customers. We are not the only ones who do it, by the way.

Focusing research on PET plastics makes a lot of sense. If scientists can come up with a bacterium to deal with PET, they can make a huge dent in the plastic waste stream. What they learn from developing these bacteria could be used to develop new bacteria for other types of plastic.

Plenty of Work to Do Now

There is no telling right now whether science will achieve its ultimate goal of creating a plastic eating-bacterium. But if they do, success is still many years away. We have plenty of recycling work to keep us busy in the meantime.

Seraphim Plastics is actively engaged in trying to help reduce industrial plastic waste. We buy scrap plastic, transform it into plastic regrind, and sell the resulting material to manufacturers. We would love for you to be part of what we do. For more information about buying or selling scrap plastic within our five-state service area, please reach out to us at your earliest convenience.