Want to safely break down eco-unfriendly plastic? Try fungus
By Ben Coxworth
May 13, 2010
Bisphenol A, commonly known as BPA, isn’t something you want leaching into the environment. It’s the compound in polycarbonate plastic that has been suspected of causing health problems since the 1930’s, and that more recently got people all over the world throwing out their plastic water bottles. When polycarb is broken down in the recycling process, or even when it’s just left in the dump, its BPA content is released. Where it ends up is a question that has a lot of people worried. A new study, however, indicates that fungus could be used to keep BPA at bay.
Scientists Trishul Artham and Mukesh Doble, of the Indian Institute of Technology Madras, conducted the research. They started by treating polycarbonate plastic strips with 100C (212F) heat for 30 days, then with ultraviolet light for 10 days. This was to generate free radicals, which would in turn break down the plastic’s molecular structure. They then exposed the strips to three kinds of fungus, including white-rot fungus, which is commercially used for cleaning up pollutants. A control group of plastics were not treated.
They discovered that the fungi grew much better on the treated plastic. Instead of being released into the environment, the BPA was absorbed by the fungus as a source of energy. Even after 12 months, the substantially-decomposed treated plastic had released no BPA into its surroundings, as it was all consumed by the fungus. By contrast, the untreated plastic showed very little decomposition - this meant that it was still holding onto its BPA, and would release it into the environment when it eventually broke down.