Australian scientists have successfully used mould to break down stubborn plastics.
The fungi — Aspergillus terreus and Engyodontium album — are found in plants and soil.
Researchers at the University of Sydney discovered that these two types of fungi could be use to break down polypropylene.
Polypropylene is a tough, rigid thermoplastic that's used to make products like takeout containers, ice-cream tubs, and plastic wrap.
It took 90 days for the fungi to break down 27% of the plastic tested, and 140 days to completely degrade the plastic.
This is an important breakthrough considering only 11% of plastic that goes into recycling actually gets recycled.
As we've all seen, so much plastic pollution ends up in our oceans and waterways.
So why don't we just release these fungi into areas overtaken by plastic pollution?
First, the amount of mold could get out of control and have unintended consequences that harm the natural environment.
These fungi could also start breaking down plastics that we need, like pipes in the ground. For example, PVC plumbing pipes. We need those!
And last, for people with healthy immune systems, breathing in Aspergillus terreus isn't harmful. However, for people who have weakened immune systems, breathing in Aspergillus spores can cause an infection in the lungs or sinuses which can spread to other parts of the body.
What this means is in order to harness the power of these plastic-eating fungi, scientists need to develop a system to use them at scale in controlled environments.
Still, this breakthrough is a #WinForThePlanet 🙌🏼
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The research was published in science journal NPJ Materials Degradation.