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In the war on waste, scientists have identified a weapon in salt pans in China: plastic-eating fungi and bacteria, according to a recent study published in the UK.
The researchers spotted “plastic-degrading fungi and bacteria in coastal salt pans of Jiangsu”in eastern China, announces the British botanical garden at Kew Gardens in a communicated. They counted “a total of 184 species of fungi and 55 species of bacteria capable of decomposing” various plastics.
Fight against plastic pollution
For their study, the Kew Gardens researchers took samples in May 2021 in Dafeng, in eastern China, a site classified by Unesco. The sample confirmed the presence of a terrestrial “plastisphere”, a still poorly understood ecosystem, made up of coastal plastic debris.
“Scientists are increasingly interested in microorganisms, such as fungi and bacteria, to address some of the most pressing challenges of the modern era, including the rising tide of plastic pollution,” points out Kew Gardens. Previous studies had already recognized the potential of microorganisms to fight plastic pollution.
Fungi that break down plastic
“To date, 436 species of fungi and bacteria that can degrade plastic” have been identified, says Kew Gardens. “The Kew scientists and their partners believe their latest findings could lead to the development of efficient enzymes designed to biologically degrade plastic waste.”
Their study is published two weeks before negotiations in Paris, which should lead to a legally binding international treaty by the end of 2024 against plastic pollution.
In 2019, 353 million tons of plastic waste were produced worldwide, of which 22% ended up abandoned, that is to say in wild dumps, burned in the open air or released into nature, according to the Program of the United Nations Environment (UNEP).
According to the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF), the total amount of plastic in the oceans has increased by 50% in the last five years despite a 60% increase in control policies at national levels.