Most of the plastic produced remains as waste in some form. About half of all plastic becomes trash in less than a year. On its own, it typically takes hundreds of years or more to degrade. According to the estimates of World Economic Forum, by the year 2050, the total weight of microplastics in the oceans will supersede the weight of top that of fish. Plastic waste on land is often incinerated, releasing toxic gases like dioxins, furans, mercury, and polychlorinated biphenyls into the atmosphere. The plastics that don’t end up in the ocean or air continue to leach toxic chemicals into the environment, polluting our water and food systems.
Nearly 300 million tons of plastic is generated every year, half of which is for single use. And with the methods of disposable just as toxic as the plastic itself, many environmentalists have been at a loss for what to do.
According to the Pakistani researcher, Aspergillus tubingensis, breaks down polyester polyurethane, a plastic used to make synthetic leather, adhesives, car parts, and many other products.
“The fungus secretes enzymes that degrade the plastics, and in return, the fungus gets food from it by dissolving the plastics,” Sehroon Khan, a postdoctoral researcher at the World Agroforestry Center and lead author of a paper about the process, told Fast Company.
The process the fungus enacts isn’t perfect, but it could be used to deal with plastics in landfills. The fungi’s enzymes break down chemical bonds in the plastic, then uses its network of tiny root-like filaments called mycelia, to further break the materials down in a matter of weeks, The researchers are currently seeking funding to create a large-scale plastic degradation system with the fungi.