Researchers from the Chinese Academy of Science’s Kunming Institute of Botany have identified a fungus that can break down plastics and could potentially become a useful tool in reducing the impact of non-biodegradable waste material on the environment
Researchers from the Chinese Academy of Science’s Kunming Institute of Botany have identified a fungus that can break down plastics and could potentially become a useful tool in reducing the impact of non-biodegradable waste material on the environment.
The fungus, Aspergillus Tubingensis, was found in a rubbish dump in Islamabad, Pakistan and can break down waste plastics in weeks which would otherwise remain in the environment for many years.
It is typically found in soil but the study found it can also thrive on the surface of plastics.
The fungus secretes enzymes which break down bonds between individual molecules, before using its mycelia to break them apart.
Several factors that affect the fungus’ ability to break down plastic were observed in the study, including the pH balance and temperature of its surroundings and the type of culture medium in place.
Researchers hope to progress the study to find out what conditions would facilitate optimum practical implementation.
Aspergillus Tubingensis could be used to help tackle the presence of particles of plastic in water supplies by being introduced in waste treatment plants, or in contaminated soil.
A recent study, titled “Invisibles: The plastic inside us” , found that individuals could be ingesting between 3,000 and 4,000 micro-particles of plastic annually, through consumption of tap water.
It found plastic micro-particles in 83% of tap water samples taken from 14 countries.
The health risks associated with this ingestion have not been ascertained, though the report refers to previous studies that suggest plastic particles might be absorbed into the body and release harmful chemicals.
Mycoremediation, the practice of using fungi to degrade waste substances, has a plethora of benefits that are becoming more visible the more species that are found.
It could become much harder in the future, however, to discover and gain access to beneficial fungi species due to deforestation and other human activities that continue to destroy natural habitats.
Read More: UN-Habitat is working with the Politecnico di Milano, Italy to carry out a feasibility study for closing Nairobi’s Ngong Town illegal dumpsite and replacing it with a modern integrated municipal waste-to-energy plant