U.S. researchers have found a way to keep plastic out of landfills for thousands of years by turning it into edible proteins.
The key, discovered by Professor Steve Techtmann and Professor Ting Lu and earning them the $1.2 million 2021 Future Insight Prize, lies in heating and adding a chemical reactor to the plastic and then feeding it to microbial communities which break it down. These microbial communities, such as those found in the stomach of cows or in dirty bilge water, flourish consuming the plastic, growing and producing more and more bacterial cells which later can be turned into a protein powder suitable for human consumption.
“‘We use engineered natural organisms to break down the plastics and non-edible plant biomass to convert it into food,’” explains Techtmann.
The groundbreaking study hopes to become even more biological by finding a way to eliminate altogether the heat and the chemical reaction that is now needed before feeding the plastic to the microbial communities. Nonetheless, for now, it seems dirty water and cow intestines are coming to the rescue in the mission to save planet Earth.