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Have Scientists Solved The Plastic Crisis?

Plastic pollution on a body of water


Scientists have introduced a "self-digesting plastic" which could potentially help cut down on pollution.

Polyurethane, a common component in a wide range of products ranging from phone cases to trainers, is difficult to recycle and often ends up in landfills.

In response, researchers from the University of California San Diego have engineered an innovative solution that sounds like something out of science fiction.

They have embedded spores of plastic-eating bacteria within the plastic, allowing it to self-destruct.

These spores stay inactive throughout the plastic's useful life but activate to decompose the material when they come into contact with nutrients found in compost.

Han Sol Kim from the University of California San Diego, said: "There's hope we can mitigate plastic pollution in nature".

The research also suggest the spores seem to enhance the durability of the plastic.

"There's hope we can mitigate plastic pollution in nature"

Jon Pokorski, co-researcher, added: "Our process makes the materials more rugged, so it extends its useful lifetime.

"And then, when it's done, we're able to eliminate it from the environment, regardless of how it's disposed."

While still under development in the lab, this new plastic could hit the market in a few years with the partnership of a manufacturer.

The bacteria used, Bacillus subtilis, is also a common food additive and probiotic.

It has been genetically modified to withstand the high temperatures required for plastic production.

Experts remain skeptical

However, some experts remain skeptical about focusing on biodegradable alternatives rather than reducing usage overall.

Recent UN talks in Canada concluded with discussions aimed at establishing a global agreement to reduce pollution.

Professor Steve Fletcher from the University of Portsmouth emphasized the need for global, legally binding reductions in production.

Speaking to BBC News, he said:"Care must be taken with potential solutions of this sort, which could give the impression that we should worry less about plastic pollution because any plastic leaking into the environment will quickly, and ideally safely, degrade.

"Yet, for the vast majority of plastics, this is not the case."

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