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Scientists discover plastic-eating mushroom that could be answer to cleaning landfills

March 22nd, 2021

Plastic waste is poisoning our oceans, ending up in the digestive systems of wildlife, and harming our waterways and ecosystems.

Environmental damage from plastic pollution has been observed at the farthest reaches of the planet away from human development.

That’s how far-reaching the problem has become.

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Catherine Sheila/Pexels Source: Catherine Sheila/Pexels

Many people are doing what they can to reduce the plastic they use in their daily lives.

This can include bringing reuseable bags to the grocery store, using biodegradable containers, and even using beeswax products to keep leftovers fresh.

Still, plastic pollution is all over our planet.

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MSchink/WikiCommons Source: MSchink/WikiCommons

Enlisting the help of mushrooms to fight plastic pollution.

A team of researchers looked at the problems our world faces as a result of plastic and thought to themselves, “hey, maybe mushrooms can help!”

In 2011, researchers from Yale reported that a mushroom is able to chow down on plastic the same way you or I might go to town on an order from Krispy Kreme. Although granted, eating plastic might be healthier for us too.

The mushroom’s name is Pestalotiopsis microspora.

The Yale researchers found it in Ecuador whilst on a research trip. The team was startled to learn the fungi feeds on polyurethane and does not require oxygen.

Can Pestalotiopsis microspora be the solution to our plastic pollution crisis?

Since it doesn’t require oxygen, Pestalotiopsis microspora could be planted at the bottom of a landfill and still survive. It would certainly have plenty of plastic to feed off of.

This means researchers are hopeful that one day these mushrooms could be planted in areas with the goal of having them reduce plastic pollution.

How much plastic pollution is created every year?

Despite the best efforts of many, plastic pollution has been increasing by 3.8% every year. There are many other statistics that point to our increasing plastic problem.

  • 50% of all plastic ever manufactured was made in the last 15 years.
  • Production of plastic has increased from 2.3 million tons in 1950 to 448 million tons in 2015.
  • 8 million tons of plastic is dumped into the oceans from coastlines every year.
  • Some plastic materials take longer than 400 years to be broken down in the environment.

How quickly can mushrooms break down plastic?

The issue really comes down to how quickly these mushrooms are able to break down plastic in a natural environment.

The faster the mushrooms can break down plastic, the more useful they are in our fight against plastic pollution.

“In nature, mushrooms break down all kinds of substances, and we’re just beginning to look at this more closely in the lab and in field studies,” said Theresa Halula, who teaches mushroom cultivation at Merritt College in Oakland. “But we don’t yet know the speed of the breakdown, and how effective that breakdown is.”

The more we research, however, the closer we are to finding a natural solution to our plastic problem. To that end, another team has found mushrooms that can break down plastic far quicker.

Hope through plastic-eating mushrooms.

In 2018, scientists announced they had found a mushroom that can break down plastic in “weeks rather than years.”

The fungus is named Aspergillus tubingensis. It is found in Pakistan, and it can break down plastic at a greater rate than any other mushroom discovered thus far.

“This is incredibly exciting because it is such a big environmental challenge. If this can be the solution, that would be great,” senior scientist Ilia Leitch said.

“We are in the early days of research but I would hope to see the benefits of fungi that can eat plastic in five to 10 years.”

Learn more about how mushrooms can break down plastic and the hope researchers have for them in the below video.

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Source: UpWorthy/Tech Insider