Typically plastic materials take over 1,000 years to decompose–but they do eventually decompose.  Daniel Burd, a student at Waterloo Collegiate Institute, wanted to see if he could speed this process up.  He created a yeast solution that fostered plastic-eating microbial growth, isolated and interbred the most effective organisms, and repeated the process.  The results were astounding: a 43% degradation of platic in only 6 weeks.

This process is distinguished from other plastic decomposition processes because it is organic and it does not require a host of chemical additives and other industrial technology to complete the decomposition.  There still needs to be a lot of testing and refining before this can be utilized on a large scale, but it is evidence of movement in a positive direction.

And Daniel is not alone.  Another high school student, Tseng I-Ching from Taiwan, recently discovered a mealworm bacteria that feeds on polystyrene (styrofoam).  In 2004, a University of Wisconsin study published results of an experiement documenting a fungus that is capable of metabolizing phenol-polymers, which are heavily used and produced in various industrial processes and products, including plastics.    



Image "Bacteria" from Kaibara87 on Flickr courtesy of Creative Commons Liscensing.