Plastic is a curse on humankind, which we have brought on ourselves. Its been overwhelming the planet, since the creation of it. Plastic takes around 400 years to decompose, which is a lot of time, considering the time for any organic material which doesn’t take more than a year.
The best result would be if we could find a way to turn the problem into a solution itself.
Scientists have discovered a mushroom which can ‘eat’ plastic. Yes, Plastic.
Back in 2012, Yale students discovered a rare species of mushroom in the Amazon rainforest called Pestalotiopsis microspora. The fungi were incredible. It is capable of living solely on a diet of polyurethane, which is the main ingredient in plastic products. Furthermore, they found it was capable of living without oxygen, meaning it can flourish even at the bottom of a landfill for instance.
Scientists have been considering that the rare mushroom would serve as the elemental part of community waste treatment. Instead of the conventional way of burning and dumping waste, these mushrooms can be applicable to decompose the massive amounts of plastic landfills. Furthermore, they can even grow and use this way in composting systems at home.
What’s even better, is other mushrooms that are also capable of consuming plastic are discovered. Some of them eliminate plastic and result in mushrooms that can still be eaten.
Designer Katharina Unger, started such a study with Utrecht University in the Netherlands, in partnership with another designer Julia Kaisinger. Hence, they came up with a setup they called the Fungi Mutarium.
Fungi Mutarium is basically a mini-garden allowing scientists to cultivate two fungi strains-Schizophyllum commune and Pleurotus ostreatus. You can eat both of these mushrooms, what’s exciting is that they can also “Eat” massive amounts of plastic.
The teams first step is, to sterilize the plastic using UV light, which also helps in the degradation process. The plastic is then put in little cup-like pieces, with a small pod of Agar, which is a jelly-like substance made from red algae. Then they insert the fungus mycelium into these cups and grow in the pod, eventually consuming the plastic and turning into a fluffy mushroom-like structure.
“Our research partner [Utrecht University] expects that the digestion will go much quicker once processes are fully researched and optimized,” Unger said. “Imagine it as being used with a community or small farm setting.”
The whole process takes about two months. But the researchers are still working on a way to speed up the process. In addition, you can flavour these cups in a multitude of ways. Unger tests the mushrooms on herself and shows no negative effects. Scientists yet to confirm that it’s indeed not toxic and decide whether it’s safe to consume. If the project is a success, we have a solution to solve both our plastic pollution problem as well as help fix the food crisis in one stroke!
Nevertheless, the project isn’t much at this moment, but its the stepping stone for our Plastic waste problems.
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