Can plastic bags decompose? It's been widely thought that such bags remain in landfills practically forever. However, they do eventually break down, and a young scientist has isolated the mechanism. From the Canadian Record: [image from Record.com]
Getting ordinary plastic bags to rot away like banana peels would be an environmental dream come true.
After all, we produce 500 billion of them a year worldwide, and they take up to 1,000 years to decompose. They take up space in landfills, litter our streets and parks, pollute the ocean and kill the animals that eat them.
Now a Waterloo teenager has found a way to make plastic bags degrade faster -- in three months, he figures.
Daniel Burd's project won the top prize at the Canada-Wide Science Fair in Ottawa. He came back with a long list of awards, including a $10,000 prize, a $20,000 scholarship, and recognition that he has found a practical way to help the environment.
Burd, 16, a Grade 11 student at Waterloo Collegiate Institute, got the idea for his project from everyday life.Burd placed polyethylene plastic bags, along with landfill dirt containing the bacteria which break down the plastic, salt and a yeast mixture for four weeks at a temperature of 86 degrees. He then concentrated the microorganisms by waiting for them to multiply after a few weeks, and found that the plastic had degraded by nearly 20%.
Industrial application should be easy, said Burd. "All you need is a fermenter . . . your growth medium, your microbes and your plastic bags."
The inputs are cheap, maintaining the required temperature takes little energy because microbes produce heat as they work, and the only outputs are water and tiny levels of carbon dioxide -- each microbe produces only 0.01 per cent of its own infinitesimal weight in carbon dioxide, said Burd.
"This is a huge, huge step forward . . . We're using nature to solve a man-made problem."