Recently, a plastic-eating fungus was discovered in a landfill in Pakistan. Soil samples indicate a strain of fungus called Aspergillus Tubingensis, which breaks down polyester polyurethane in a few weeks rather than in hundreds of years. Polyurethane is used to manufacture everyday objects such as tyres and condoms, both of which end up in a landfill.
Dr Khan, the study’s lead author, explains: "This could pave the way for using the fungus in waste treatment plants, or even in soils which are already contaminated by plastic waste."
This is not the first time scientists discovered plastic-eating microbes. Last year it was discovered that wax worms eat Polyethylene (plastic bags). Furthermore, a study has discovered a new type of bacteria that is also capable of breaking down a certain type of plastic, Polyethylene Terephthalate (PET), which is used to make plastic bottles.
If fungi and bacteria can digest plastic, what other superpowers do they have that we are we not aware of? It is estimated that 93% of fungal species are still unknown to science. Can you imagine what other phenomenal traits we might still discover?
Scientific discoveries about plastic-eating organisms give a beacon of hope to those afraid that the planet’s pollution will not be restored to healthy levels ever again. Still, while it may sound like we found the solution to plastic waste problems, there is still a lot of work to be done to make a clean planet a reality.
In the meanwhile, reduce, reuse, and recycle your plastic waste, and go fund fungus research. Yes, there are organizations dedicated to this topic, for example, Royal Botanics Gardens KEW, a global resource for plant and fungal knowledge. They use science to provide knowledge, inspiration and understanding of why plants and fungi matter to everyone. If you care about the planet, you'll care about fungi too.