Mushrooms may be the answer to the Plastic Pollution

The discovery of plastic eating mushrooms, an Amazonian fungus called Pestalotiopsis Microspora, might offer a solution to plastic pollution. Every year enough plastic is thrown away to circle the earth four times. Ending up in landfills and oceans, polyurethane (PU) based plastics take 500-1000 years to degrade – but there is hope that we might not have to wait that long.  

Diver posts video showing current of plastic in Indonesian ocean

Diver posts video showing current of plastic in Indonesian ocean. Source: YouTube

Previously known in Argentina and Japan to cause leaf spot on common ivy and shrubs, a team of Yale student researchers visiting the Yasuni National Forest in the Amazon first noticed that this particular fungus can survive solely on polyurethane in an anaerobic environment. The combination of these two factors resulted in the hypothesis that it is possible to use the plastic eating mushrooms deep inside landfills where little to no oxygen is present. The fungi use the polyurethane as a carbon source enabling them to grow and degrade polyurethane at the same time.

Pestalotiopsis microspora

Pestalotiopsis microspora

The researchers at Yale have been hard at work testing this theory by growing large amounts of the mushrooms to isolate their digestive enzymes. The liquid enzymes are then applied to large quantities of plastic to begin their breakdown.

Mushroom eating Polyurethane

C – PU film recovered being eaten mushroom after three weeks. D- PU film being eaten by mushroom after for two weeks

So why no action?

While there have been plenty of encouraging trials at university level there seems to be no progress or support in the commercial world. This is a clear opportunity for those interested in helping to save the planet from plastic suffocation to look further into the technical aspects of this and start an enterprise that can be both commercially viable world changing.

As a young company Life Cykel do not have the resources to dedicate team members to this project as we are currently flat out working mushroom leather to replace animal leather and immune boosting extracts to naturally assist the health of humans and animals. In saying that we have the technical know how to assist others in this field and would to be of assistance. If you are someone who wants to help take care of this man-made plastic disaster by using fungi to remediate plastic feel free to get in touch or refer a friend who may be that person.

Fungi Mutarium: Prototype from LIVIN Studio on Vimeo.

How can each of us take action?

  1. Use a reusable water bottle/keep cup.
  2. Carry a canvas bag for shopping.
  3. Use paper folders.
  4. No plastic cutlery or straws.
  5. Stop chewing gum (it contains plastic)
  6. Pick up litter especially near beaches, waterways and shorelines.

Other studies have proved that some fungi can degrade plastic composite such as:

Study published in Applied and Environmental Microbiology scientific Journal in July 2007. University of Manchester. Fungal Communities Associated with Degradation of Polyester Polyurethane in soil

Cosgrove, L., P. L. McGeechan, G. D. Robson, and P. S. Handley. 2007. Fungal communities associated with degradation of polyester polyurethane in soil. Appl. Environ. Microbiol. 73:5817–5824.

Crabbe, J. R., J. R. Campbell, L. Thompson, S. L. Walz, and W. W. Schultz. 1994. Biodegradation of a colloidal ester-based polyurethane by soil fungi. Int. Biodeterior. Biodegrad. 33:103–113

Darby, R. T., and A. T. Kaplan. 1968. Fungal susceptibility of polyurethanes. Appl. Microbiol. 16:900–905

Pathirana, R. A., and K. J. Seal. 1984. Studies on polyurethane deteriorating fungi. Int.  Biodeterior. Biodegrad. 20:163–168.

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