Is there an easy way to 'destroy' plastic?

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  • #1
ShawnD
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I wasn't sure whether to put this in bio or chem, so I put it in bio.

Environmentalists always argue that plastic takes thousands of years to break down, so is there any way to turn large amounts of plastic into something that doesn't harm the environment? Are certain bacteria able to break down plastic? Is there a simple chemical that can be added to most plastics to turn them into material which can be broken down by bacteria?
 

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  • #2
Ivan Seeking
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Both of these approaches are explored. I don't know how much success they have had on all fronts, but I recently heard of a cell phone company that announced the promotion of biodegradable cell phones that come pre-seeded. When the phone is ready for the trash, just pull apart the plastic case and plant it. The plastic degrades quickly in the moist soil and sunflowers springs up from the seeds in the plastic.
 
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Ivan Seeking
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There are also shipping peanuts made from corn starch. These melt in water almost immediately. There are also plastics made from corn oil. I believe that these plastics are biodegradable.
 
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cepheid
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Ivan Seeking said:
There are also shipping peanuts made from corn starch. These melt in water almost immediately.

Wha...? :surprised
 
  • #5
Ivan Seeking
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cepheid said:
Wha...? :surprised

Yes, the first time I saw these, I was really concerned about the guy eating them!
 
  • #6
DocToxyn
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Ivan Seeking said:
I recently heard of a cell phone company that announced the promotion of biodegradable cell phones that come pre-seeded. When the phone is ready for the trash, just pull apart the plastic case and plant it. The plastic degrades quickly in the moist soil and sunflowers springs up from the seeds in the plastic.

Strange, but true, check this out for info on the biodegradable phones, or a search under google scholar for "biodegradable plastics" brought up almost 5000 hits.
 
  • #7
brewnog
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Ivan Seeking said:
Yes, the first time I saw these, I was really concerned about the guy eating them!

I got a massive box full of those once, just potato starch. They were shaped just like, and tasted almost like, Cheesy Wotsits. Probably ate 3 cubic feet before I started to feel ill, they just vanished in your mouth.

edit: oh yeah, the actual point of my post...

Astra Zeneca have their "BioPol" division, they're currently either making, or looking at making, biodegradable disposable razors, shampoo bottles and golf tees.
 
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  • #8
Moonbear
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I prefer using popcorn as packing material (much tastier than cornstarch), though I guess our radiation safety dept would have fits if our suppliers shipped stuff to the lab packed in popcorn. :rofl:
 
  • #9
Ivan Seeking
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I saw at one time that the popcorn solution was growing in popularity. It may be pretty energy inefficient as compared to the starch peanuts, but who knows? Maybe someone could take a look at this as a school project.
http://www.uline.com/ProductDetail.asp?model=S-1564

Edit: As for the original question and existing stockpiles of plastic, I know that designer bugs are all the rage in some camps. Genetically engineered bacteria designed to eat specific materials, like plastic, is the goal.

One related thought. Bacteria designed to consume crude oil, say in the case of an oil spill, are also considered. The problem is, what if someone drops these bugs into known oil reserves? :surprised The potential for disaster is mind boggling. The solution is to design death clocks into the bugs to prevent runaways, but of course, something could go wrong.
 
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  • #10
iansmith
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Ivan Seeking said:
One related thought. Bacteria designed to consume crude oil, say in the case of an oil spill, are also considered. The problem is, what if someone drops these bugs into known oil reserves? :surprised The potential for disaster is mind boggling. The solution is to design death clocks into the bugs to prevent runaways, but of course, something could go wrong.

Yeah and it is called bioremediation. These bacteria normally occur in the environment and can use hydrocarbones as carbon source. I remember correctly, some of these bacteria are already causing problem in certain type of oil extraction process.

In my old department, some profs were looking at cold adapted bacteria to help in bioremediation. (http://www.nrs.mcgill.ca/microbiology/greer/index.htm; http://www.nrs.mcgill.ca/whyte/).

An for plastics, there is actually biodegradable grocery plastic bag on the market.
http://www.ecoproducts.com/Business/packaging/bags.htm [Broken]
http://www.guardian.co.uk/waste/story/0,12188,893794,00.html
 
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