Teenager’s Science Project Could Save The World From Plastic

In News on May 24, 2008 at 2:20 pm

(Pic from mzacha)

It’s a sensational headline, but it’s definitely something worth checking out. Daniel Burd, a 16-year-old from Waterloo, Ontario, discovered a way to break down polymers in plastic bags by determining and isolating the most efficient microorganisms that break the polymers. Through this method, it’s believed that plastic bags, which are thought to resist degradation for up to hundreds of years, can be broken down into just three months. He walked away with a $10,000 prize and a $20,000 scholarship.

More from Mother Jones:

Burd combined ground polyethylene plastic bags, sodium chloride, dirt from a landfill (which theoretically contains the microorganisms that ultimately degrade the plastic) and a yeast mixture in shakers for four weeks at a consistent temperature of about 86 degrees.

At the end of the month, he took a sample of that mixture and combined it with a new one, with the goal of increasing the overall concentration of microbes.

After one more repetition, he put fresh plastic bags in his solution for six weeks. In the end, the plastic degraded nearly 20%. A little more filtering to figure out exactly which microbes were the most effective, and he upped the degradation rate to 32%.

He concludes, “The process of polyethylene degradation developed in this project can be used on an industrial scale for biodegradation of plastic bags. As a result, this would save the lives of millions of wildlife species and save space in landfills.”

The full details of his experiment and the strains of the bacteria identified can be found at The Record, while Daniel’s science paper can be found here.


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