Scientists have found a naturally-occurring lake bacteria that could help to remove plastic pollution from lakes by breaking down the carbon compounds in plastic and using it for their own growth. Some of the bacteria that they found even grew faster on plastic bags when compared to natural matter such as leaves and swings.
The study looked at a total of 29 lakes within the European region, each with different conditions such as depth and average surface temperature so that they could assess a wide variety of settings. To measure bacterial growth, they first cut up plastic bags from some of the biggest UK shopping chains, shaking them in the water of the lakes until their carbon compounds were released.
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They then filled one glass bottle with ‘plastic water’ and one glass bottle with ‘normal’ water from each lake. They left the bottles for 72 hours in the dark, before measuring the bacterial activity.
“Our study helps to identify microbes that could be harnessed to help break down plastic waste and better manage environmental pollution" said Professor David Aldridge in the University of Cambridge’s Department of Zoology.
The findings showed that the bacteria from the bottle filled with ‘plastic-water’ had doubled in mass very efficiently. Over 50% of the carbon has been incorporated into the bacteria from the plastic-derived carbon compounds, essentially using the plastic as food for their growth. Scientists think that this could potentially be a natural way to remove plastic from the environment. However, they also stressed that it doesn’t condone ongoing plastic pollution.
Scientists have also looked at how engineered plastic-eating bacteria could help to reduce the amount of plastic pollution in the environment.