Groundbreaking news for anyone who cares about our environment: researchers have identified a species of bacteria that can eat the type of plastic found in most disposable water bottles.
The discovery was first published Thursday in the journal Science and it could hypothetically lead to new and innovative ways to manage the more than 50 million tons of this type of plastic produced each year.
The plastic in water bottles contains polyethylene terephthalate, or PET, which is also found in polyester clothing, frozen-dinner trays and blister packaging.
PET is lightweight, colorless and strong. But it’s also really hard to break down, which is why the new discovery is so revolutionary.
A team from Kyoto Institute of Technology and Keio University found two strains of bacteria that can break down PET. After adhering to the PET surface, the bacteria secretes on enzyme onto the PET to generate a chemical, which is then taken up by the cell and broken down further, allowing the bacteria to grow.
Plastic water bottles have long been an environmental scourge, and an avoidable one at that — why not use reusable water bottles, guys? — but this innovation could change everything.