It’s In the Bag! Teenager Wins Science Fair, Solves Massive Environmental Problem

By Melissa Lafsky | May 27, 2008 11:27 am

plastic bagsWe’ve all heard the plastic bag horror stories—the billions of bags discarded every year that wind up polluting oceans, killing wildlife and getting dumped in landfills where they take up to 1,000 years to decompose. Researchers have been wracking their brains for years to figure out a solution. But leave it to a Canadian high school student to leave them all in the dust. Daniel Burd, an 11th grader at Waterloo Collegiate Institute, has discovered a way to make plastic bags degrade in as little as three months—a finding that won him first prize at the Canada-Wide Science Fair, a $20,000 scholarship, and a chance to revolutionize a major environmental issue.

Burd’s strategy was simple: Since plastic does eventually degrade, it must be eaten by microorganisms. If those microorganisms, as well as the optimal conditions for their growth, could be identified, we could put them to work eating the plastic much faster than under normal conditions.

With this goal in mind, he ground plastic bags into a powder and concocted a solution of household chemicals, yeast and tap water to encourage microbe growth. Then he added the plastic powder and let the microbes work their magic for three months. Finally, he tested the resulting bacterial culture on plastic bags, exposing one plastic sample to dead bacteria as a control.

Sure enough, the plastic exposed to the live bacteria was 17 percent lighter than the control after six weeks. Once Burd examined the most effective strains of bacteria, he was able to isolate two types—Sphingomonas and Pseudomonas—as the plastic munchers. At 37 degrees and optimal bacterial concentration, the microbes had consumed 43 percent of a plastic sample within six weeks.

Next up, maybe it’s time to put him to work on this whole carbon emissions thing.

Here’s another tale of a blue ribbon project that could have great environmental benefits: Teen’s Winning Science Fair Project Could Turn Tire Dumps Into Power Stations.

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  • Leora

    This just goes to show that sometimes everything we think we know just works as a block for new ideas. Sometimes it takes someone who does not know what cannot work, to find what can.

  • Kim

    I’m impressed, but what other problems might be caused by unleashing these bacteria out into the world? Sometimes, we just make things worse.

    • kaitlin

      Yeast is everywhere.  Its in your bread and in your intestines.  There are many strains, and I don’t know which he used, but yeast is nothing new to the world.  He didn’t create a new super bacteria, he just took some that already existed and put it in the right place under the right conditions.

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  • http://soundclick.com/erniepaul ERNIEPAUL IZERECKT

    Extraordinary! I’m completely flabberghasted, good work indeed!Carry on:)

  • Brian

    Kim: These bacteria already exist in the world… the kid just figured out what the optimal conditions were to create a higher concentration of them.

  • Willy

    If these are the optimal conditions for these bacteria, they’re most likely optimal for most bacteria. Therefore, using these containers with any food and such would likely cause a faster growth of harmful bacteria.

  • Darcy

    Thank you Kim. I too immediately thought of the consequences of releasing all of this bacteria into the environment. While we’re obviously not going to start dumping bacteria into our wastelands, it’s important to figure out all of the effects. The best thing to do is keep pushing recycling and study the effects of this bacteria.

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  • Aaron Neff

    Now its up to the FDA, the EPA, and the government in general to waste time in bureaucratic procedures and we might have a committee to develop a plan to use this technology in the near future. But, excellent work let us begin using it now.

  • http://www.geek97361.com/blog Avrila

    Setting these bacteria loose in mass quantities or turning the whole world into their optimum environment might be bad ideas for assorted reasons (not the least of which being that bacteria make people/animals sick), but what about setting up a kind of anti-factory for plastic bags? That way, the bacteria can go nuts and chew heck out of trash, in a controlled environment. They’d have to work out a safe way to dispose of the waste, of course; incineration comes to mind because hospitals already use it for potentially biohazardous materials.

    • kaitlin

      Where in this article is it implied that the bacteria should just be released into the environment?  Obviously bacteria should be in a controlled environment, but keep in mind that the bacteria he used was yeast.   I don’t know what strain he used, but If you’re so worried don’t eat bread and certainly don’t learn about your own intestines. 

      • kaitlin

        LOL, I’m an idiot.  I wish I could delete my comment, but yes, I know yeast is a fungus.  My bad.

  • Alex

    It is not scientifically possible to decompose plastic, the only thing that happens is that the plastic is broken into even smaller microscopic bits that are filtered through all polluted areas; the water is the most dangerous because plankton and other small organisms filter feed the small bits of plastic and it travels through the food chain back to us and other animals.

    • Anonymous

      Where did you get such a ridiculous notion? Have you been watching too much TV?

      Left in the sun plastic will degrade to bio identical (you and every other living thing can’t tell the difference… even with expensive equipment) in a matter of months.

      This statement would do well in an astrology column, but not in anything else.

      • Sarah

        “Even though polyethylene can’t biodegrade, it does break down when subject to ultraviolet radiation from the sun, a process known as photodegradation. When exposed to sunshine, polyethylene’s polymer chains become brittle and crack, eventually turning what was a plastic bag into microscopic synthetic granules. Scientists aren’t sure whether these granules ever decompose fully, and fear that their buildup in marine and terrestrial environments—and in the stomachs of wildlife—portend a bleak future compromised by plastic particles infiltrating every step in the food chain. A plastic bag might be gone in anywhere from 10 to 100 years (estimates vary) if exposed to the sun, but its environmental legacy may last forever”

  • Jess

    I’m with Avrila. Obviously you can’t recreate the optimal environment everywhere out in the rest of the world, I think the idea was to be able to break down plastics more quickly in a controlled environment. Kudos to this kid, hella impressive.

    • kaitlin

      Why couldn’t it be recreated?  It could be recreated in a facility.

  • Alexander

    Come on Avrila, really?

    Of course we’re not going to set bacteria loose in mass quantities. They wouldn’t survive. And of course we’re going to use the kid’s discovery to produce plastic breakdown plants.

    You know better than to suggest incineration as a means of disposing wastes. We’ve tried it. It releases emissions into the atmosphere. More importantly, what wastes are you talking about?

    For every smart kid coming up with ideas, there are 100 000 people to ruin them.

    • Wildpaksoffamilydogs

      amen.

  • http://www.apostaterebel.wordpress.com MichaelL

    Another win for Canada! We are not only Americas hat, but apparently that hat contains our superior brains!

    • CT

      uh….Alaska?

  • JohnC

    Michael, this is triumph of science for the world, why do you insist on making it a nationalist thing?

    Now I’m forced to ask you to take a look at last years list of Nobel prize winners and see where the majority are from.

  • Jim

    Ok lets get some things straight about bacteria here because it seems most people here really have real knowledge about bacteria other than bacteria are bad and make people sick.

    First off someone up above said that most bacteria probably have optimal growth conditions similar to pseudomonas and sphingomonas, most bacteria actually have some fairly unique optimal conditions, many can grow well in similar conditions but not at an optimum level.

    Second off these bacteria are already exist everywhere on earth, in fact pseudomonas is one of the most resilient bacteria around. In one classroom working with pseudomonas there are literally trillions of them. In there world there are more bacteria than there are all other living organisms, the human body has more bacterial cells living within and on it than actual human cells. To say that adding even 1000 trillion of these bacteria to the enviroment and saying that they will have a big impact is like saying that throwing a few hundred gallons of hot water into the ocean will cause a permanent rise in temperature. Most would just die in a matter of minutes because due to lack of food and waste build up of the microbe.

    Thirdly most bacteria do not cause disease, only a small handful of species cause any sort of illness and in a lot of cases its not even an entire species but only a certain strain of that species that like E. coli, only one very particular strain is widely known to cause disease.

    And finally, to whom so ever said that it is not scientifically possible to decompose plastic, IF IT CAN BE SYNTHESIZED IT CAN BE DECOMPOSED. There are no compounds that once made cannot be degraded, to say otherwise does not make scientific sense. What you are saying is that once it is made it cannot be unmade. Plastic can undergo a very rapid degradation merely by burning it. Biodegrading something is just a controlled set of chemical reactions that degrade the compund and harvest the energy, which is in turn used to make new organic molecules.

  • jean

    Pseudomonas is a life threatening microbe. Causes thousands of deaths a year in this country. Also, what happens if the microbe decides to attack plastics that we don’t want to degredate, like your car bumpers? Messing with microbes is not good. Recycle the plastic, that would be more cost effective. Petroleum byproducts are expensive. Why do we need to destroy them? Reuse, restructure, recycle.

  • SKB

    Pseudomonas is a genus of bacteria – some, not all, Pseudomonas species are pathogenic. To say Pseudomonas is a life threatening microbe is untrue in most cases.

    Seriously folks, we’re all carrying a bacterial load of around 2 kgs, most of them beneficial – surely we can spare a few to save the planet :P

  • http://www.cixsohbet.com mehmet

    I’m using cloth bags to save the world

  • JC

    Sorry Jean, if people were responsible enough to recycle in the first place we would not be trying to figure out how to get these things to decompose. You can go ahead and tell people over an over again to reuse and recycle and they still won’t or don’t. Most people just don’t give a crap about the environment. Just being realistic!

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  • Claire

    BACTERIA ROCK!!! I bet one day they will solve every world issue and I am completely serious about that. I don’t get why people dont like bacteria, it really makes no sense. Yes there are a handful of strains of bacteria that are harmful, but I would argue that a large number of those can be traced back to irresponsible use of antibiotics on our part, a direct correlation of our irrational fear. Maybe if we started to embrace the wonderful qualites of bacteria, solutions like this one would become reality, instead of ignored due to the public’s skewed ideas.

  • Michael Hartley

    there must be more to this than meets the eye; that bacteria eat plastic, oil spills and, actually, practically everything, has been known for years. there are already some effective developments, check out ‘effective micro-organisms’ -japanese research…

  • Sarah

    Amazing the variety of opinions about bacteria. Stop using anti0bacterial soap, that is a good start. Once the bacteria die, all life dies. Our fear of microbes is far more dangerous than our hyper consumerism.

  • Rick

    I think what this kid was able to hypothesize and then demonstrate is very impressive.
    However…

    If people are too lazy to change their routine enough to use reusable bags, what makes you think they would do what it takes to get these bags to a place where they can be decomposed on a practical scale?

    What makes more sense?

    1) Building the infrastructure necessary to employ this technique on an industrial scale and somehow coercing/cajoling people into going along with it
    or….

    2) Coercing/cajoling people into reusing bags as a matter of course and recycling the plastic ones they need to consume when a reusable bag is not possible?

  • Yuli

    Thank you, Jim. You hit the nail on the head.

  • Sim

    Dear Sarah,

    The reason we don’t want anti microbial soap is not because all the bacteria will die – that will never happen. In fact even if our environment changes where no life can survive, there will still be microbes. We don’t want to create a sterile environment, ever, because once that happens and some normally risk level 1 bacteria such as E. coli enters, it will cause huge problems where as in normal conditions it would not have caused any problems. It is just like L. monocytogenes. Leave it in an environment where there are other microflora, it will fail to thrive.

    I think you’re confused with antibiotic resistance. Do not use antibiotics unless you absolutely have to or else you’ll get the same sort of thing happening – microbial resistance will grow and we’ll have a harder time sorting out the pathogens and their bad behaviour.

    and @ Jean, don’t google websites made by 6 years old and spread false information to those who are already mislead, Pseud. is found everywhere. In fact it is manipulated for bioremediative purposes.

    Sincerely,

    Simone,
    Bsc.H, Microbiology…4 years in a university learning about microbes, I have to know something right? :)

  • ren

    hm smart kid.

    shouldn’t some scientist have figured this out years ago though??

  • Oppo

    This is great work, which help lot of people thank you and great work

    Maldives :)

  • http://wolfierankin.posterous.com/ Wolfie Rankin

    …except, I’ve recently seen a plastic bag which is normally used as a magazine cover, after you tear it off, you can put it in a jug of hot water and it dissolves, practically instantly, and you pour the remains down the sink.

    Of course I had wondered what would happen to your magazine if it was in the letterbox and got wet.

  • Kate

    If we all used cloth bags none of this would be necessary. Reduce first, reuse next and then recycle. We don’t need plastic bags and our selfish use of resources to make something we don’t need and then putting something into like this in motion to get rid of the thing we don’t need seems absurd to me. It’s nice that the kids in school are thinking about these things but the headline, Kid Solves Massive Environmental Problem seems a bit misguided.

  • http://www.mmpblackmoneyllc.webs.com The Comforter

    PEACE ALL,
    So it would be almost interesting to link up with the Science labs, hospitals, OSHA, and any bio-chemical company and get ALL the bacteria want from them they would have they need that’s what you call RECYCLE. Seriously this is a excellent discovery and it’s a blessing for us who care. ( our we can go back to using HEMP products…GOOGLE IT. )

  • Saint Benjamin

    This is very good but do the bacteria respire aerobically? If so I’d be interested to know how much CO2 would be released for each decomposed bag.

  • Dave K.

    woo hoo! save the world billions, if not trillions, and get $20K for it!! yay what a world.

  • Brian S

    To those who are worried about letting these bacteria loose in the world, I share your concern. However, using this method doesn’t require us to just let them loose. We can initiate this idea in controlled environments such a waste processing facilities and landfills. This just means that we have to confine our trash more. Which isn’t a bad idea. Doing so would allow us to use this method and maintain control over their activities. just a thought

  • Jim Linton

    For what it is worth, this was the subject of my Master’s Thesis at the University of Cincinnati in 1988. I isolated a bacteria from landfill styrofoam (a strain of Pseudomonas aruginosa) that really chewed plastic.

    Funny how now it is getting attention. Maybe I should have hired this kid’s PR firm.

  • race

    I don’t really see how this is useful. So the plastic gets chewed down – how is that better than recycling the plastic and making a effort to use less of it. And where would we release the bacteria and how of it would we release? And how much would it cost to keep the waste at a constant temperature of 39 degrees? Seems to me this kid is smart, but lacks the thought of practicality. PLUS I’m pretty sure that we’ve known about plastic eating bacteria for decades.

  • Walter

    Great Science fair project, but he is not the first to demonstrate that bacteria can degrade plastic. http://informahealthcare.com/doi/abs/10.1080/07388550500346359
    This is an abstract for an article dated 2005 and is a review article meaning the works cited are probably at least as old as the year 2000.

    Think about doing this on the scale needed to keep up with plastic bag usage. The amount of energy(to heat the solution) and water needed would make this a very expensive process. And as is previously mentioned these aerobic bacteria which produce CO2. To be honest, I think you’d be better off burning the bags in a high temperature incinerator or plasma converter and be done in minutes not weeks. Or as has already been stated to reduce, reuse, and then recycle(you can recycle the bags too by the way)

    Again great science fair project, but there are many reasons this isn’t a real world solution yet.

  • fenderflip

    @#3: The microorganisms were already released in the world. That’s where he found them.

  • Gabe

    I am a scientist and all I can say is kudos to this kid for doing an amazing job of proving a very important principle…nature already has an answer for most of the challenging things facing our society. That being said, I am skeptical of this providing some sort of huge breakthrough to the disposal of plastic waste. First, I am not an expert but there are probably hundreds if not thousands of varieties of plastics…can these bacteria eat them all? Second, we produce more and more plastic every year…can this process be scaled up to support the amount of waste we produce or is this simply something that can only be done a bag at a time? Anyways, I still think this initial work rocks as with all good science it provides even more questions to be answered.

  • Stephanie

    “Once we rid ourselves of traditional thinking we can get on with creating the future.” – James Bertrand

  • http://onedayoneimage.blogspot.com OneDay

    Sometimes a little thinking outside the box is all we need! That’s amazing! I hope they find a quick way of implementing this for current landfills, but unnecessary plastic use should still be discouraged.

  • Stlheadake

    This is hilarious! “IF people would just reuse their bags…” yeah that’s FUNNY! I would like to point out that using the plastic bags for small waste bags IS NOT RE-USING or RECYCLING them.. At THIS stage of affairs, I don’t think it is possible to ‘catch up’ with this plastic bag issue.

    Either quit using the bags all together, or use these lethal (to plastic bags) bacteria!

  • Ben

    I think it is great to try to think of new solutions for environmental issues, but I would like to point out that this is not groundbreaking. Maximizing microbial degradation of wastes by tweaking parameters like surface area and ambient conditions is what many engineers do for a living. Probably, the only reason this technique has not already been “discovered” is because it isn’t economically feasible to do this on a large scale. Unfortunately, putting plastic bags in a landfill is a heck-of-a-lot cheaper than constructing specialized digesters for plastic bags. Sorry for being a hater….

  • http://www.premiumcoffeevendor.com Jeff

    Interesting concept however not feasible on a large scale. We must reduce, and recycle.

  • Luc

    Plastic eating bacteria generally aren’t pathenogenic, so no worries about any outbreaks…bacteria make the world go round, where do you think all your beer, wine, cheese and yogurt come from, not to mention all the industrial and medical uses for bacteria. Nothing is cheaper than simply throwing it away, but money shouldn’t be an issue when it comes to applying something that can be so beneficial, it’s the political restraints that will keep this from being followed through if anything

  • Luc

    the aerobic bacteria use Carbon Dioxide as a carbon source and actually consume it rather than produce it

  • Luc

    …and why are you bickering about reduce, reuse, recycle when all the plastic that has been already produced and disgarded to date still has another 900 and some odd years to go before it degrades. Put the bacteria to use and reduce you plastic consumption, simple as that

  • Ryan K

    You are what you eat. That means instead of the plastic lying there we’ll have plastic organisms crawling all around the earth pooping out plastic everywhere. :)

    Seriously, like some have already said, let’s use less plastic! Don’t use a plastic cup up for 30 min meeting, or a plastic fork for your meal and another for your dessert at your family reunion. Don’t get a bag for one jar of peanut butter.

    You may feel like an ass when you make the hard decision to bring your own silverware or plate or bag, but IT IS THE ONLY THING THAT WILL WORK!

  • http://oxypowder.com Herb

    wow. what an amazing feat! With his accomplishment, scientists should be able to speed up the overall time by reproducing these same microorganisms. I still think we should all try to consume less of these bags, but it’s nice to know that we have found a way to speed up the decomposition of them.

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  • Syras

    This is basically the same concept as the bioremediation method of cleaning up oil spills. Give bacteria enough nitrogen and other necessary nutrients, and some of them can digest oil or plastic or any other carbon source you need to get rid of. Once the food source runs out, they die. It’s really no more dangerous than a compost pile. For those who are imagining dumping large quantities of super hungry bacteria into the world, that’s ridiculous.

  • Jimmy Johnson

    Those that can do. Those that can’t drag out whatever grant money they get to buy more time faking it.

  • mike

    if we reduce our population by 90-95% through mandatory birth control, beginning in poverty stricken areas, saving the planet wouldn’t be a problem. Nor would hunger, disease, pollution, war, epidemic, racism, nor any other issue we have today. With our technology what it is, people could all enjoy an education equal to their ability to learn, while being able to live like kings no matter what their station. In just a few generations the world would be a virtual paradise for all it’s inhabitants, and most of the world would be set aside for wildlife etc, as it should be.

  • Brooke

    Big marketing dollars are generated by making you afraid of germs and disease. I can hardly wait until they have pro biotic skin cream, people would use it after using antibacterial cleanser. Its all just words.

  • Kaustubh

    Just do your bit folks wherever you are. Lets stop living in self denial. Only solution to plastic is to stress the environmental issues in the education system.Lead from the front with example. Others shall follow.

  • Valrie

    Wow! Thats incredible. Innovative thinking right there.. That is what we need. New minds with new ideas.

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    I agree that bright minds are what we need for our future and i hope that this ideas will be done some day by the rich and company directors or in other words .. the peoples who have the money power. I really believe that those can make a difference if they will became interested.

  • dave

    Mutant 59–the Plastic Eater

  • Tim

    The problem is not finding a way to recycle or compost plastic.

    The problem is getting the lazy and arrogant, who fling their trash around at will, to gather it for either composting or recycling.

    The High Schooler who solves that will win a Nobel prize.

  • http://www.crgkerala.org/josin.html Josin

    What about the carbon dioxide emission during the process? I think this solution will eventually worsen the global environmental crisis in another way.

  • Julie

    Pseudomonas aureginosa can cause cystic fibrosis…. but that’s a small price to pay for the damage we’ve done to our Earth.

  • mangala

    WTF? How stupid are people? Why not just stop making things out of plastic and switch to something more biodegradable such as hemp?

  • Sim

    @ Julie

    Cystic fibrosis is hereditary genetic disease, meaning that if it runs in your family, you have a higher than normal chance of inheriting it. The gene that become mutated creates the genetic disease called cystic fibrosis. Being immuno-compromised, P. aureuginosa is just one of the many bacteria that can cause a secondary infection, resulting in a problem. H. influenza, S. aureus, any common bug that people with healthy immune systems can fight off normally, immuno-compromised cannot. So in response, you are wrong. P. aureuginosa does NOT cause cystic fibrosis.

    In a normal setting, if people don’t know something they are naturally curious and want to learn before making such comments. Just like this brilliant kid did, he learnt and research and applied, didn’t just walk around making big shot comments. I did a thesis on reducing carbon emissions using bacteria last year (specifically the methanogen Methylosinus sporium and P. aeruginosa) and for any fellow science lovers that are interested in this topic (scientific aspect, not the social), check out any work by Drs Murrell or Dumont for some of the potential applications (“Duplication of the mmoX gene in Methylosinus sporium: cloning, sequencing and mutational analysis” is one).

    Kudos to this kid

  • http://@wildblue.net MICHAEL J. SCHMITZ

    PLASTIC BAGS== THERE’S ALWAYS GOOD AND BAD STORIES ABOUT PLASTIC BAGS AND BOTTLES. WHERE I LIVE WE LIKE PLASTIC BAGS AND I’VE TOLD EVERYONE THAT IF I GO SHOPPING IN THEIR STORES AND THEY DONT HAVE PLASTIC BAGS, I WILL WALK OUT AND NOT RETURN. I LIKE PLASTIC BAGS. IF PEOPLE WOULD PICK UP THEIR GARBAGE AND PUT THEM WHERE THEY BELONG, IT WOULD END THE PLASTIC BAG PROBLEM. WHEN I TALK THE WORLD LITERAL LISTENS. HAVE A NICE DAY AND USE ONLY PLASTIC BAGS.

  • This Guy

    The ignorance in the comments is amazing. I hope that this is a sample of the ‘environmentally conscious,’ and does not reflect upon the population as a whole.

    That being said, congrats to this kid for earning a scholly! I think that it’s pretty widely published (known) that bacteria can degrade plastics. It’s an engineering problem. How do you scale up economically? That’s the real problem.

  • Justin

    This is more of a political problem it seems than an engineering problem. There are places in the southern US where temperatures regularly reach 37 degrees. The amount of energy needed to maintain that temperature would be less in those places than in, say, Michigan (which is where I live), where everyone (including Canadians) seem to love to ship their trash. Heating and cooling an enclosed trash facility in warmer states would require much less energy than in much colder states (of course, the first thought that comes to my mind when I think of how to heat a large enclosed facility is greenhouses). The problem, of course, is the NIMBY people (and it is a valid concern). Many folks in the warmer states do not want and are not going to want trash to be shipped to their states from elsewhere, regardless of how much they might be paid to have it so.

  • Dude man

    Its kinda ridiculous how many people try and turn this little forum thing into an argument, and a lot of people sound like they’re just lookin for someone to insult or something. Its kinda dissapointing, kid comes up with the start to a decent idea to solve some problems of ours and everyones gotta come on here and start hatin. anyway i can agree it still presents environmental issues but it can be worked on, props to him for bein innovative.

  • tim

    this comment section shines more light on this story than the story itself! Adults immediately jump to the “what about the after-effects of the ‘medicine’? Good thing this kid didnt get caught up in your negativity, he might have given up, like you did.

    Simple solution: Create the optimal environment, decompose the bags (and other slow degraders), and keep it that way. Then, get this craziness, INVEST IN CONTAINMENT. Period. Landfills are dirty, this kid is talking about producing specific dirtiness. Nothing else changes. Air and ground pollution actually reduces due to the average disposed item degrading quicker than the alternative.

    Here’s the real sh!tty part: You’ll never know. How do you compare one set of results to an imaginary result that COULD have been. It’s redundant, and counterproductive.

    A+ to the kid, this is so simple, it will work if the adults STFU

  • tim

    it’s much like the septic tank products that eat the waste faster. think of the landfill as the septic tank. this is so simple, its brilliant.

  • ky

    Brilliance!

  • http://www.ffall.org pedro freenandes

    Yeah, this is a good exercise and possibly a real solution for this huge problem. We should invest in more ideas like these. Designers and other creatives should join these kind of ventures too, to solve all the other problems.
    But we should also be careful. We should watch out for what are the consequences of this bacteria concentration. When we discover something we can’t just grab the solution like some sort of antidote to all bad things. Let us find out what are the counter-backs too. Nature (where we are and what we are) is tricky.
    Anyway, this is very good.

  • ally

    There are already several companies that use microorganisms to remediate landfills and contaminated sites, this is in no way a new development.

  • Andrew

    This seems rather akin to mutating viruses to be more virulent. This is creating bacteria that degrade plastic. Think about the things we use plastic for: food containers, vehicle parts, buildings, HVAC systems, medical hardware, IV bags, etc. This seems like the kind of research that should be classified as potentially harmful and sealed away. The government does this with research projects already, as in the instance of the pHD student who had his network vulnerability research classified as potentially harmful. Of course, all technology comes with potential for abuse, but the devastating effects that this could have are rather overwhelming IMHO.

  • Alex

    @ 76: We are not creating bacteria that can degrade plastic…these bacteria can already degrade petroleum products. This is how oil spills are cleaned in respect to bioremediation techniques. The bacteria require a very specific set of conditions in order to grow, otherwise they do not grow.

    @ those who think that “unleashing bacteria” is going to overrun the Earth: We aren’t unleashing anything, we are simply going to be taking bacteria that OCCUR NATURALLY and allowing them to flourish in an area that they can grow in…being plastic compost piles. The bacteria can not grow in humans or any other living organism because their requirements for life are not available inside an organism. In short, don’t let your very limited knowledge of bacteria (which is limited to pathogenic bacteria) taint this kid’s brilliant idea.

    This is another proof that the new wave of technologies is going to be coming from microbes and the field of Microbiology. An example is the using bacteria in order to create Hydrogen from sugar. This technology is already patented and we may see Hydrogen fuel actually become a realization within the next 20-25 years.

    Back to the article, A+ I hope this person gets to thoroughly research his idea, and hopefully the idea will come to fruition

  • Andrew

    @77: You’re right. I had mistaken this for something I had read earlier, regarding a student who was attempting to selectively cull bacteria that would degrade plastic, and essentially evolve a strain that could consume the plastic more quickly. As you say, this student merely identified strains that already do this.

  • Andy

    I really like Jim’s comments.
    I have a hard time understanding people that think it is not possible to do things, closemindedness is foolish.

    I appreciate people that can bring clarity to situations. The bacteria exist currently, however die when not in the proper enviornments, so no matter how many we release they will not destroy what we don’t want them to because they will not exist outside the contained area.

  • Mark

    Couple of comments.
    1) In regards to getting the bacteria to 37degrees, this could probably be done in combination with another type of bacteria what produces heat as a byproduct of a similar process. Possibly even set off a change reaction so it is self sustaining in a closed facility.
    2) The real genious will be when someone figures out how to get bacteria to decompose the great pacific garbage patch. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Great_Pacific_Garbage_Patch
    A type of bacteria that can decompose plastic while its in sea water!

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  • Nytprowlr

    I think this kid’s off to a great start…maybe try this out in controlled areas so it’s not being released into the environment, but tested on sample ground w/ a firm base beneath it so it’s not harmful to whatever is under the soil…branch out slowly…or just keep it all in a large warehouse…or several.
    Yes, I’m a firm believer in recycling and do so myself, but this problem is going to be around for awhile so what’s the harm in trying something productive…again, in a controlled area.

  • CuriosSam

    This is impressive for a science fair. Kudos to the kid. However it is not quite as useful as the article makes out. What he did was look around and find the best bacteria to decompose plastic. Even in optimum conditions these bacterial strains are only marginally suited for this purpose.

    For this bacteria to be actually useful (on an industrial/environmental scale ) one would have to extensively modify it. So 43% of a sample in six weeks sounds impressive. However the sample was probably something like a 1cm square of 50 micron thick plastic. So that means in six weeks in perfect conditions the bacterial soup processed something like 0.000000005kg or 5ug of plastic.

    So this proces which undoubtably required growth medium and chemicals in much much bigger quantities than the processed plastic itself it is just not scalable.

    This is not all bad news. The idea is sound and the bacteria found might be a good starting point for GM engineers. However it’s those engineers that need to do all the hard work to actually make a useful product.

  • Niki

    As a PhD student in Microbiology, it pains me to read most of these comments. The ignorance that plagues most people shadows this study’s experimental design and limits its potential. I’ve studied bacterial metabolism for eight years, and the practicallity of this kid’s idea is very real. Microorganisms have acted as manipulatable catalysts in tons of beneficial situations! It is evident from above that the people who are concerned with only the environmental aspects of this story lack enough understanding to even discuss ideas intelligently.

  • Kyle

    This kid deserves a lot more than a scholarship and first prize at a science fair! If I were him, I would patent my idea and sell to the highest bidder or start my own company.

  • Gloria

    If we didn’t use so much plastic we wouldn’t need to recycle therefore we wouldn’t need the bacteria.
    Learn to live without.
    When you buy something think of the consequences in the future not just with your pocketbook.
    We went from paper bags to plastic bags to hemp bags. Paper was biodegradable we stopped using it because it destroyed our trees, we should stop using plastic because it destroys life on our planet, plastic isn’t biodegradable.
    We used to have glass soda bottles now they’re plastic. Which is better for the environment.

    Be considerate of your future and learn to live without.

  • http://greendom-afc.sosblog.com ishaq ibrahim

    This step forward to save the environment and reducing carbon, can I take the details or if you want send to my email address Thank you

  • http://www.google.com/profiles/setterofmoods Michelle

    OH MY GOSH!!! I went to Kitchener Collegiate Institute which is a rival high school in the region, and I KNEW HIM!! Not like close, or anything, but acquaintances. WAY TO GO, DAN!!! WAY TO SAVE THE WORLD!!

  • http://personalwebguide.com/ Travis

    Amazing what one mind can do, and a high-schooler’s mind at that. I’m glad I read this though… as I’ve always found it depressing when reading about all the ecological damage that plastic bags do, especially since so many people are too lazy to recycle them.

  • Chris

    What a sad day……for big govt…now someone has gone and found out a solution to a problem and the govt has to work overtime in order to find a way to stop this. – regulations, taxes, laws, guidelines, bylines, pipelines…… or just lines. It’s more work for them. Maybe if we all get together we can stop the madness of cleaning up our world. C’mon who’s with me .. . . . .we’re going streaking!!!!!!

  • http://www.bluentcad.com Richard Menon

    really appreciable……….. great work…keep it up

  • Joe Adams

    What is the waste product of the process? Even microbes poop – or something similar.

  • http://tritusco.com Jeff

    wow.. 20,000 scholarship, and he saves the world… uhm i say make it a full ride to college, + transportation “hybrid car of his choice” and meals paid for throughout college…. cheap bastards!!!!

  • Spydiggity

    This kid figures this out and they give Obama a Nobel Prize??? wtf is wrong with this picture? make this kid president!

  • http://GRILLirious.com GRILLirious

    This information is controversial. At least we are starting to think about the future.

  • http://www.webconnecttechnologies.com shiv kumar

    Grete !!!!

  • Mark

    An interesting project but there are some concerns that some commenters on the article have already pointed out. Before I get to those though, I must emphasise that the article itself could be better written.

    1) Serendipity: It would appear that the student made a watery solution containing “house-hold chemicals” (whatever those were, presumably mainly salts and sugars) seeded with yeast and applied that to a ground-up mixture of plastic, which was subsequently contaminated later on with bacteria. It is not clear why yeast are necessary other than acting as food source directly (as prey) or indirectly (bacteria living off their metabolites derived from the salts and sugars), unless they began but could not complete the plastic degradation process which was then completed by the bacteria. Kudos to the fellow for later identifying the most effective species, although I’m not sure how he had time to realise that the mixture was contaminated wth multiple bacterial species, set-out to isolate those species (which would require culturing on agar plates for several days), then repeat the experiment with isolated strains of bacteria.

    2) How to be sure that plastic is being degraded: ” the plastic exposed to the live bacteria was 17 percent lighter than the control after six weeks”. It is not clear in what vessels these experiments were conducted in. I would hope that he prevented things such as evaporation occurring, in which case, the loss of mass would presumably be due to the degradation of the plastic compounds into gaseous molecules small enough to escape from the containers (i.e. hydrogen, carbon doxide).

    3) Pedanticism: I also resent the implication that yeast are conflated as being bacterial; they’re not, they’re fungal. That is more a criticism of the article writer rather than the experiments though.

    Now onto the criticisms from other commenters that I agree with.

    4) Carbon dioxide release: If the bacteria are degrading the plastic then the release of carbon dioxide is a real possibility and concern. I’m not going to go into the global warming debate now, but for the sake of argument I shall assume that carbon dioxide release is a problem. Perhaps it would be preferable if plastic was recyled rather than degraded.

    5) The economics: “At 37 degrees and optimal bacterial concentration, the microbes had consumed 43 percent of a plastic sample within six weeks. ” Bearing in mind that the plastic needs to be first collected before even doing anything to it, it then has to be ground up before adding to huge vats containing large amounts of bacteria that have to be fed and kept at 37 degrees Celsius. At such a large scale, some kind of stirring mechanism would probably also be necessary. All this to achieve a 43% breakdown over 6 weeks is not going to be financially viable and appealing enough for someone to not already be doing it.

    This commenter summarises my thoughts on this matter

    “45. Ben Says:
    December 18th, 2009 at 10:40 am

    I think it is great to try to think of new solutions for environmental issues, but I would like to point out that this is not groundbreaking. Maximizing microbial degradation of wastes by tweaking parameters like surface area and ambient conditions is what many engineers do for a living. Probably, the only reason this technique has not already been “discovered” is because it isn’t economically feasible to do this on a large scale. Unfortunately, putting plastic bags in a landfill is a heck-of-a-lot cheaper than constructing specialized digesters for plastic bags. Sorry for being a hater….”

    However, someone claiming to have relevant expertise thinks that the student is onto a good idea.

    “83. Niki Says:
    December 25th, 2009 at 2:01 am

    As a PhD student in Microbiology, it pains me to read most of these comments. The ignorance that plagues most people shadows this study’s experimental design and limits its potential. I’ve studied bacterial metabolism for eight years, and the practicallity of this kid’s idea is very real. Microorganisms have acted as manipulatable catalysts in tons of beneficial situations! ….”

    I would certainly approve of this guy doing well in his science-fair and he undoubtedly deserves the scholarship. The idea needs working on however and he obviously isn’t the first to come up with the idea.

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  • Taryn Bannan

    It is nice to know that we are going to leave the Earth in the capable hands of the next generation. As someone who celebrated the very first Earth Day…great job Daniel Burd.

  • anon

    The logical next step would be to identify the metabolic pathways that allow the bacteria to digest plastic, and if we’re lucky, identify the genes responsible. Engineer some algae or plankton with those genes functioning, and we got a sure-fire way of getting rid of that sea of plastic in the middle of the Atlantic!

  • Gary

    Its true I cant believe how ignorant some ppl are about bacteria in the real world. “Using anti-bacterial soap will cause bacteria extinction & releasing bacteria into the world will eat any plastic in its way” are some of the really shallow comments I’ve read.

    Fact is bacteria is used to produce insulin, all sorts of medicine humans consume and for gene therapy in controlled environments, I haven’t witnessed an epidemic risen from some bacteria leak out from any labaratory so far. People need to understand in this case that this specific strand of plastic eating bacteria already exist in the air we breath, but it can only dedgrade plastic in 1000 years under atmospheric condition. Under controlled condition however, we can catalyse the reaction just like what Daniel has done.

  • http://warrenlanger.wordpress.com Warren Langer

    As an old Bronx HS of Science grad circa 1944 I was very impressed.

    Good for you (and the rest of us.)

    And Happy New Year.

    warren langer

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  • Becky Kleitz

    I can promise you that the majority of the idiotic comments here are from Americans that went through our retched public school system. And I can say that as I am an American who had to augment my “public” education with plenty of extra-curricular reading and study.
    It does not surprise me that this young man is from Canada, which places a much higher priority on education in their “public” system and in their society in general. In America the only “hero’s” seem to be sports stars and entertainment types.
    Kudos to this young man for sure.

  • Bobk90

    Plastic is an OIL based product, natural or synthetic, which explains the TRUE COST of OIL per barrel!!! The Oil Companies of the WORLD are not stupid , think about this: while people were looking at how to get better gas milage for vehicles, the auto industry was forced to make cars LIGHTER and what did they use, PLASTIC, hence OIL!!! The World economy would fail if we stopped using OIL isn’t that nice!!!!

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  • B

    Great, but why can’t we just make new plastic bags from old plastic bags?

  • http://None Mike

    Hey…I have a great idea to stop this growing issue….stop creating the problem, and stop making plastic bags. Wow…that was hard.

  • Adam

    @B

    Because there are certain plactics which cannot be recycled. Plactic bottle and trays can be recycled because they use a certain length of hydrocarbon chains. Plastic bags however, are too thin to use this length, so they need to shorten them to make them thinner. This makes it impossible to break up the hydrocarbons to reform them into other materials. Basically, you can’t do it.

  • Tracey

    Amazing, brilliant I hope this young man sticks to his science I think we will need more of his help.

  • Mark

    I have a better idea. Let’s stop making plastic bags altogether. Go back to paper using a much faster renewable resource that doesn’t use as many harmful chemicals – Hemp!

  • LexyLoo

    This kid won an 11th grade science fair so props to him…he uncovered a basic truth to our earth and is using this in a constructive manner. He isn’t supposed to know all the details. Yay for science fairs.

  • J

    Kim: You bring up an interesting point. I read somewhere that the bacteria is not so much the problem as the plastic. Even though plastic is made smaller and smaller through the breakdown process including grinding and bacteria, it never actually disappears, the small plastic pieces, just get smaller and smaller. This means that they can be ingested by bugs, animals, etc. and could possibly be harmful in return.

  • rob

    Put a plastic bag or 2 in a compost. It will brake down quickly.

  • RJ

    To all the nay-sayers and people dismissing this as ‘not that great’ consider that although he didn’t invent the bacteria, and discovered something that already existed: He actually thought to look for them, and found a way to optimize their presence, something that no one has done before. Many people credited with great discoveries did just that, found something that already existed. You think Newton invented gravity?

    Go kid!

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  • Ted Geleit

    They only gave him $20,000.00 for that. I hope that he patented the idea so that some big company doesn’t get there greedy hands on it and cheat him out of any royalties that he could earn. This should set him up for life.

  • http://cfagbata.com/ Going Green Tips

    Well, the guy is definitely unique.
    Too bad, he’s probably won’t be given a real chance to save the planet =[

  • Pablo

    Do any of you realize that it uses more energy to recycle a plastic bag than it takes to make a new one?

  • Jason

    This guy solves a huge problem and all he gets is a $20k scholarship? That should earn a full ride at least. Go Canada!

  • Ryan

    He’s just gotta work even harder to make sure that this technique can actually be implemented now. Not knowing too much about the bacteria itself personally, I don’t know if this would be a safe technique to practise outdoors in a landfill, but it obviously needs to be done in a controlled environments, so it seems that it would have to be done in a facility of some kind.

  • Funkydebunker

    Okay,I have read the previous 120 posts, and either I am missing something or everyone else is. Plastic bags are a big problem. This is a fact. Isolating a bacteria that can break plastic down is a good thing, so far as we know right now. Yet other arguments such as we should use hemp, or reduce re-use and recycle miss the point: we DON”T use hemp, and we DON”T recycle everything, and we STILL make plastic bags. Offering solutions of the wishful thinking variety (as in “if I were king I would make everyone do it my way and that would solve everything”) are not all that useful. Saying that this bacteria is impractical because we would have to build big processing plants for it to work and it would be too expensive, also misses the point. So, what is the point? I would like to suggest that this is a problem in which there is no one simple solution. Just like a doctor who takes care of his patients with a spectrum of remedies, from prevention to surgery, this student has added one more weapon in our anti-pollution arsenal. We need to use ALL the methods at our disposal (pardon the pun). We can not depend on every person recycling every plastic bag. We just don’t live in that kind of world. We may not be able to take care of every plastic bag on the planet with this bacteria either.
    I can think of a few simple ways that this could help, and it won’t cost a fortune. Sorry you all, I am not a scientist, so feel free to tell me what a dope I am! Anyway, instead of processing great loads of plastic and trying to get them to decompose very fast, why not compromise? It seems to me that compromise solutions are the ones that have a hope of working, given the argumentative and uncooperative nature of our species. Can we not make plastic with the bacteria already in it? Wouldn’t it then have a sort of shelf life? And wouldn’t that shelf life be like the ones we use for dairy products for example, which depend on ideal conditions to determine the expiration date? So some of the plastic will take a bit longer to go away because it is in colder place. Or maybe they could put something in the plastic that encourages the bacteria to grow a little faster? This is a new thing in a way, even though this type of bacteria has been understood for a while. It is news to me and many others, so who knows what will happen if someone decides to run with the idea? I guess that I am saying that there is not any ONE solution to plastic pollution, or climate change, or any number of problems we must confront today. But at least this kid managed to come up with part of the solution, for which he deserves much praise.

  • http://earthnurture.com Tim Dunn

    I’m amazed that so many readers have missed Mr. Burds main point – plastic in landfills biodegrades naturally. It happened faster when he provided warmth and a nutrient, that’s all. Plastic doesn’t last thousands of years in the soil because many different microorganisms eat plastics. This wasn’t some new, mutant strain – it is a microorganism found in soil everywhere. If we managed to kill off all of these microorganisms, we would die, because they create soil out of cellulose. We need soil to grow crops. Our company, BioGreen Products Co. makes ordinary plastic more biodegradable in the soil by adding an additive that makes it smell more tasty to microorganisms that can eat plastic, so that they biodegrade more quickly in landfills. This biodegradable disposable product line (plastic cutlery, plastic cups, straws, etc.) is called Earth Nurture, and you can read about it at earthnurture.com .

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  • http://www.kingbotho.com Georgio M

    Excellent piece of work

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  • Farkas Vajk

    I haven’t read all of the ~120 comments, but I have this to ask – even if the bacteria are ‘naturally-occurring’ and naturally plastic-consuming, is tweaking them (which will likely be required to scale up to industrial volumes) going to result in any untoward effects? Even sans tweaking, OK, they eat plastic – but what waste do they produce? Is it plastic-y? Is it totally OK for the environment? Also, if you do scale up, I mean, people can digest/handle certain levels of toxins in their bodies with no problem, but if you up the dose and cross a threshold – catastrophe. So maybe the only way for the plastic-eating bacteria to consume at rates commercially viable will kill them, and that won’t help anyone.

    And yes, the first step of the 3R’s is to REDUCE, and we do need to reduce our plastic-dependency greatly (but large-scale behavioral change is just such a tough nut to crack …)

  • Silverfish

    This is great work for a high school student, but it does not solve the real problem. Sure, you can degrade plastic bags under controlled conditions, but you could also recycle them into useful materials such as patio decking and weatherproof fencing. The problem with plastic pollution is that it is by definition in places where bacteria are not very effective, such as in the ocean or buried in cool earth. Otherwise, the naturally occurring bacteria would have already evolved to eat plastic by now. Also, the byproducts of biodegraded plastic may not be all that good to put in the food chain.

    The solution seems to be on the production side. There has been some progress in creating plant based plastics. They have the advantage of not being petroleum based, being more rapidly biodegradable and biodegrading into safer organic compounds.

  • http://stumble lizzy

    they should just stop making them, even with this technique plastic isnt going to just disapear into thin air, whatever eats it will become it, even in spores, it needs to be used for something else, recycled, for house hold use

  • M Wilson

    Why would we want the bacteria to eat the bags? Wouldn’t they be put to better use if we recycled them on to other products?

  • http://www.ryanparentphoto.com Ottawa Photographers

    This is amazing!!! I always feel guilty when I forget my reusable bags…

  • http://www.yourhealth911.com/index.html VG

    What if it will spread and learn how to eat all other plastics which you use? What are you going to do then? Will you cry out SOS or what?

  • Asheville

    The kid would be a real genius if he could figure out how to get everyone to stop consuming so much oil. If we didn’t buy so much sh*t, we wouldn’t need all those plastic bags in the first place.

    We need a change of mindset. Not some new method to help sustain our grandiose lifestyles.

  • Brian

    This kid has a good future in science, although I would say I suspect a microbiologist is in his family seeing as he was isolating strains of psudomonas which requires delicate training and knowledge. The psedomonas species of bacteria is well known for its metabolical diversity and has been used extensively in cleaning contaminates like during oil spills and the clean up of new orleans after katrina. These bacteria can use just about anything carbon for its carbon source so plastic bags which are carbon made from oil which is also a carbon are not so different. Psedomonas is also a spoiler bacteria not a pathogenic bacteria so that should not be a concern here. It is not hard to imagine that using some of the cursory work he has done here could be put into a industrial system using large rendering vats keep at optimal enviroments for growth could be used. Another point to be made here is the biproducts of psedomonas were not mentioned here, many bacteria create useful bi products such as methane gas and alcohols such as ethanol both of which are currently being utilized in energy production as fuels that have less carbon impact and are renewable. Bravo kid and dont let uneducated nuts worry you about health risks and bacteria people will always fear what they do not understand or know anything about.

  • http://... E

    Sooo, in case anyone is wondering what part of Canada and some U.S. states are already implementing regarding Plastic bags…. Follow this link: http://www.cbc.ca/consumer/story/2010/02/22/consumer-plastic-bag.html …. No reply necessary.

  • http://gmail.com Anastasia

    i didnt read it all but i just want to know how to make reusabble plastic bags i only have 2 days left what should i do for eco earth science fair tell me plz plz plz

  • http://gmail.com Anastasia

    oh i forgot to tell u i am in 5 th grade

  • patrick

    (Yeast isn’t a bacteria, it’s a fungi.)

    It’s sad how instead of making recycling mandatory, we have to use a microbe to decompose it.

    This one shouldn’t be solved via science. It should be come through a change of heart.

    It would be harder to implement this idea than it would be to just tell everyone to quit using so much oil and plastic and recycle.

    I would be more interested if this bacteria could eat depleted uranium.

  • lou

    wondering- do these bacteria respire aerobically or anaerobically? are they going to be giving out large amounts of co2 or methane? that would definately counter the positive ecological effects..

  • http://urmom william

    that judab crap all that doesnt get recycled like omg i dident think it was that much :(

  • Heather

    Clearly, the majority of you posting comments about “releasing these bacteria into the environment” know absolutely nothing about bacteria. Would you be shocked to know that there are more bacteria in your mouth than there are people that have ever lived? Bacteria are simply EVERYWHERE, all different kinds, all over the place, including crazy places like deep sea vents, geysers, the Salton Sea, etc. in quantities that you can’t even begin to fathom. The only thing this kid accomplished was identifying the actual species/strains of bacteria that are capable of digesting plastic. This can be done by setting out a desired nutrient (which he did), allowing growth from bacteria naturally present in the environment, and then doing genetic testing on the colonies that grow to ID the species/strain.

    Please don’t think that bacteria are all BAD. The majority of bacteria out there are perfectly harmless to humans, and without bacteria in this world, you simply cease to exist. Go read up on bioremediation and probiotics, please.

  • Katherine Season

    The thing is Pseudomonas is one of the most common causes of pneumonia. It might do a lot of harm for the people working around it. It may even cause tolerance to antibiotics in the future resulting to stronger bugs

  • http://www.shfilters.com Share Filtration

    World is jammed by people who are turning world into a rubbish site, that’s why we are say” Earth is dangerous, let’s go to Mars”

    Let’s work together to treat our mother Earth better, she will return us with good environment

  • rohan

    amazing brains bro… seriously , hats off to u. I myself feel helpless about saving the environment. i do my best by reducing plastic use, RRR etc..but this, this is the work of a prodigy. if the world is blessed with more ppl like u then we might just survive the coming years… im proud to say that i now consider myself ur fan. i am a XII grader from india.

  • Johnwen

    props to mr. burd for the excitement.

    Mycoremediation. let’s expand on this.
    http://www.springerlink.com/content/jkq6847237635t55/

  • Ian H.

    Remember that these bacteria are already unleashed on the world. To do this much damage in the short period of time, they need to be in a specific environment. One with sugar, water, and the appropriate temperature. I highly doubt you keep your plastics submerged in sugar water at 37 degrees celcius for weeks at a time. Unless you do, then these same bacteria will eat your plastics, it will just take a massively long time.

  • http://www.enviral-design.com/ Lucas

    We have bacteria in our own stomachs that make digestion what it is. we live with bacteria, they aren’t a bad thing necessarily.

    i think getting rid of bacteria in a contained area would be easier, and quicker, than letting trash decompose on it’s own, for however much longer it takes, probably building up whole cultures of other bacteria, out in landfills.

  • Charissa

    I would like to answer a question that was posed by 3. Kim. I’ve looked up both types of bacteria. I’ve had personal experience with the second type listed in the article. They have been on the planet for God only knows how long, I’m sure. If they do come in contact with humans and those humans do end up being infected by said bacterium. The infection is easily treatable by any medical doctor. I believe God put everything, even the bacteria, on this planet to help us. Maybe some people shouldn’t worry so much. This scientific break through is just what is known as “evolution.”

  • Charissa

    And adaptation.

  • Laz Cook

    bacteria is great, but why are we not recycling these plastic bags to be used in other plastic products that do not require virgin material, eg. Padding on chairs, pens, building materials… This would help carbon emissions reduction rather then making the bags ‘disappear’ thanks to some fantastic bacteria experiment.

  • eef

    christ people calm down.

  • Madstumblr

    This is two years old and I been stumbling this since then… THUMBS DOWN PPL

  • patriaeshumanidad

    this seems like a great thing, but this is so minor on a global perspective.

    once again, America disperses it’s guilt on targeting the results of a structure that perpetuates environmental devastation. if you were to implement this bacteria to all plastic bags being used to the world, it wouldn’t even “counter” the environmental damage caused by the recent oil spill.

    you want to stop environmental devastation, you need to regulate your industries carbon output.

    hope no one takes offense to this, it’s just painful to see people actually feeling like we’re solving “the” problem. this young man who did this is just one of hundreds of thousands.

    the next generation will be janitors, cleaning up our parents messes.

  • http://xobabikizil Jasmin

    I NEED YOUR HELP to win a grant for my campus.. all you need to do is follow this link and register and vote for BARUCH RECYCLES, it will take30 seconds, if you care about the environment PLEASE help us win!!

    http://www.refresheverything.com/baruchrecycles

  • Lora

    Wow this is amazing! Inspiring :)

  • daniel

    how do you grind plastic bags into a powder? i can’t think of any machine doing that without getting gummed up, and doing that by hand is serious commitment.

  • Benjamin Koshkin

    We need to be creating the search for knowledge and discovery in elementary school starting in the first grade.

    Benjamin Koshkin

  • http://www.travesti10.com travesti

    Thank you for your explanation. There really useful information.

  • Count Zero

    Do any of these f***ing idiots realize how plastics are made? We don’t need them to bio degrade, we need them to persist. In 50 years the price of plastics will triple, at the very least. It would be nice to have the huge plastic mines that are our contemporary landfills… we will need them.

    Are we now considering plastic to be an evil substance that needs to be eradicated from the earth? Plastics are among the very building blocks of our contemporary civilization.

    The easiest way to make plastic is from petrochemicals. When are we going to run out of significant crude oil resources? Yes it is true we can make plastics from organic materials such as corn but the price is much higher, and life saving plastics will be much harder to obtain for the average consumer.

    Sometimes the fervor to be pseudo-environmental gets in the way of common sense.

    [Moderator's note: edited the cuss word.]

  • Karen

    Why dont we just work on an alternative to using plastic- and then we wouldnt have to worry about its harmful effects on the environment. REDUCE is the first term in the familiar REDUCE REUSE RECYCLE for a good reason! but we somehow lose sight of that preventative stuff and go strait for the after solution. People have become so lazy with conveniences such as plastic bags that are causing a whole slew of problems – especially for our future.
    Preventative.
    Cool beans with the science experiment tho.

  • Simon

    DUDE THATS AWESOME! You could make a lot of money off of that! And it is VERY good for the enviorment! We really needed someone like you to come up with something like this! Now just work on carbon emissions! ;) nice job!

  • Clive

    I think it’s really funny how everyone is saying “what are the risk factors of releasing such bacteria into the world?”, like bacteria didn’t inhabit the planet before we did and our own bodies aren’t full to bursting with them. “Uh, gee, don’t you understam the implickashunz of releasifacting such organizers into the atmosphone?” No, there are no ducks and baby snakes choking on germs, he didn’t invent them, he just found out who they were and what they’re good at, it’s not a hard concept to grasp. STFU, NOOBZ, YOU DON’T GET IT CUZ YOUR NOT HARDCORE ENOUGH.

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  • Antonia

    This is a perfect example of “age is just a number.” This article is so interesting it’s part of a science test that I’m going to take

  • Greg

    This is great news. I am curious as to what the byproducts are. I also wonder about the controls will be. Having plastic-eating bacteria loose in our society might have some unforeseen consequences.

  • Carlos

    This technology is being already used by Bimbo company, the mexican company that makes bread. All their plastic bags degrade as soon as 3-4 months now.

  • Kayla

    This is just… ridiculous. The amount of ignorance in these comments is ridiculous. Go kid who did this. It’s awesome.

  • Anthony Pittarelli

    Good for you kid that accomplished this amazing task, boo urns on all the haters who probably think that the earth is 2000 years old and global warming doesnt exsist

    Anthony Pittarelli

  • JBH

    It’s an interesting little project but unfortunately not the earth-shaking result that one might think at first blush. Bacteria can be isolated to degrade all kinds of things under ideal conditions. The trick is actually degrading the bags or pollutants or whatever in situ (where they actually are) or constructing some kind of bioreactor to degrade them. Actually, a better solution has already been developed: biodegradable plastics, made of plastics actually made by bacteria (such as Pseudomonas and Sphingomonas spp.). These are in use in some areas of Europe but they are too “expensive” to replace traditional plastics, what with petroleum at the price that it is currently in the U.S.

    Biodegradability isn’t usually the problem, though. One can find 30 year old hot dogs in landfills that are entirely undegraded… due to unavailability of water, mainly (see work by Joseph Suflita at Oklahoma State U.).

  • Cassie

    A better solution would be to broaden the market for bio-compostable plastics. Corn or hemp based plastics are two wonderful examples, both being effective in regards to cost, growing time, and space to product ratio. They’re renewable resources and they decompose quickly, providing nutrients in the process.

    In addition, pushing recycling and composting would cut our waste dramatically. Its not a difficult thing to do, takes minimal effort to do, and reduces my families regular trash collective by a third. The government in the United States offers tax cuts for people who drive electric/hybrid/biofuel cars, so why not for recycling?

  • Ankush

    Good Going…. All the Best

  • Ches

    This is pretty awesome!
    In the comments thread, I noticed some concern both about ‘unleashing dangerous bacteria into the world’ and about them degrading other useful & necessary plastics, don’t worry; one, they are naturally occurring, and two they won’t go all Andromeda Strain on the plastics in the world because most systems are not hospitable to the bacteria. The cocktail of household chemicals combined with the optimal temperature is a rare combination that would have to be carefully orchestrated.

    Bacteria are good. How do you think you get nomsy items like cheese, beer, wine, etc? Baaaacteria!(yay)

    One solution we could apply to the temperature requirement could be using the same facilities to house plastic and organic compost.(organic as in once living matter, not just pesticide free…) As food and other organic materials decompose, they generate huge amounts of heat. If done right, compost heaps can get to above 150 degrees Fahrenheit. That would be more than enough ambient heat to keep adjacent plastic compost piles at their optimum temp of 37 C. (which is near 98F)

    And here is my environmental guilt trip: use glass and cloth!!!! (they make you feel fancy anyway, right) Plastic is for cheapies

  • http://www.sevenplanet.com derek

    Woah – how cool is this! Sometimes all we need is a little forward thinking. Big thanks to Daniel Burd for this solution. I will be interested in seeing how this is implemented in our ever producing landfill society. Do you all think it will be utilized or will it take awhile to implement and catch on?

    I hope you don’t mind but I liked this article so much I re-posted it and blogged about it on my website http://www.sevenplanet.com – you can find it on our blog.

    Thanks again!

  • brian

    To those who are trying to sound more knowledgeable than you are: Are you as stupid as the things you say?
    Whatever your misconceptions may be, the ability of these two microorganisms is a great discovery.
    And quite obviously, this great discovery will need to be further researched in ways that none of us may truly understand.
    In the end, it may not even work! We know too little about it right now; we must learn more.
    So before we start blindly praising or condemning, we need to think.

    Seriously, the way some of you’re all speaking to each other, I’d really like for you to look into the Dunning-Kruger Effect.

    sincerely,
    brian

  • David Smith (scotland)

    Very interesting idea! Although the use of pseudomonas could potentially be asking for trouble. Perhaps a killed variant of the strain?

  • Lou

    Thankyou Brian and others who have pointed out the awful way in which some people have discussions. If someone doesnt understand something, you will do better to nicely explain things. No one needs to be hard core or intense. drama queens.
    anyway. my comment on the topic is that further research should be undertaken and that the whole way in which we shop should be changed. From the way we transport goods to the way in which we package them. Imagine if we really co operated and compromised?

    We could reuse and recycle and share transport lines much better than we do.
    Well done to the young man who is helping us manage our own s**t. god knows all the other species on this planet are getting sick and tired of us crapping in their habitat and on their food chains. We are toxic and this discussion is a perfect example of that. Namaste. I love you all and honour the diversity of our journeys. Logic and morality are at stake here so lets stop fighting and if we cant say something constructive then say nothing please. A fool who doesnt know he is a fool is not a fool. Only fools who know what they do and refuse to attempt change are truly foolish. Most of us are making mistakes we cant see yet.

    [Moderator's note: edited the cuss word.]

  • Jojo Mcbean

    There are many different types of plastic. Polyethyleen will perhaps take 3 months to degrade, but fluorinated polycarbons like PTFE (teflon) will take thousands of years. I think it’s important to distinguish between different types of plastic, since each would require its own bacteria and optimal conditions.

  • emily

    who would pay for this on the scale that is needed? how would it be implemented? capitalism will keep the best ideas from happening if someone can’t make money on it.

  • Don
  • Candace

    Good for you, kid!!! Keep caring!!!

  • Austin

    I’m a recent graduate at the University of Washington in Seattle and I’m working on a project almost the same as this, where we took environmental samples from a wetland that contains runoff from a landfill and selected for conditions promoting plastic growth on all common types of plastic. We’ve found some similar results to Daniel Burd, and are working to optimize the activity and identify intrinsic genes required for growth on plastic polymers. In the larger context of the project, I would like to clarify that these bacteria are not going to be “unleashed into the environment” whereas some people are claiming. Once the bacteria are optimized, we plan to redirect the carbon flux to value-added products, meaning we plan to create biofuels from plastic. Therefore, this process would be done in a controlled facility where product purification is possible. Also, if the bacteria were to be exposed to the environment, they require very specific growth conditions to promote the activity that are not found in the environment. Therefore, it is absurd to think that these bacteria are going to spread and contaminate all plastics and cause mass degradation, unless you plan on incubating all your plastics in growth media that promotes biofilm production.

  • Mimi

    But…but…surely we could just stop using plastic bags?!

  • brendie

    mimi, thats a sensible thing to do, avoid plastic bags, but we already have landfills fill of plastic that need a “hurry along”
    even if the world stopped using plastic (its not just bags that are made of the stuff) we have a “1000 years” to catch up on

  • http://www.writingconsultation.com Sarah

    While it is a good idea to use bacteria to decompose the plastic bags, it is also a good idea to eliminate the use of plastic bags.

  • CCAR

    Now if I could only find some bacteria to eat my sister-in-law.

  • flynny

    in a fishtank the fish & plants will not survive without good and bad bacteria, thats why you clean the filter in the same water. so why would people think the earth is different ? a tank is just a small river, stream, ocean. good and bad bacteria are the balance to life and only survive in the right inviroment. if bacteria was going to take over the planet it would have many many years ago.

  • http://www.ladadadada.net Dave

    Something that was kind of missed in the article is what is produced by the bacteria.

    We can already decompose plastic very easily and quickly (as Jim said very early on) by burning it. But what that turns the plastic in to is worse than the plastic was to start with.

    So, you stick plastic in with these bacteria and leave it for a few weeks. What do you get out ?

    The original article says “the only outputs are water and tiny levels of carbon dioxide” but, of course, we know that can’t be the whole story. The entire weight of the plastic bag must end up somewhere… unless there is a fission reaction going on in there we haven’t noticed yet.

    Plastic bags are mostly made of Carbon and Hydrogen. On the assumption that the bacteria use Oxygen from the atmosphere, I’d guess that this process is turning all of the Carbon in the plastic bag into CO2 and all of the Hydrogen into H2O. Both of those reactions are strongly exothermic, which would suit the bacteria very nicely.

    The original article also mentioned: “All you need is a fermenter . . . your growth medium, your microbes and your plastic bags.” But plastic bags are already made of Polyethylene which is already recyclable. The problem is all the bags out there in the environment, clogging up waterways and choking the native fauna. If we can collect the bags and put them in a fermenter, then we can just recycle them in the normal way.

    This is great work for a 16 year old. But it’s not quite the silver bullet that it has been made out to be. He has the passion, he has the drive and now he has several thousand dollars. Let’s hope this inspires him toward a great future in cleaning up our planet.

  • http://www.egenergy.com Energy Conservation

    You have to admire smart kids with a little determination. An excellent and really quite simple solution to a major environmental issue. Now we just have to work on the front end of the problem and stop using so many plastic bags.

  • Monica

    maybe he can think of something to do about the oil spill

  • david

    Pseudomonas are pathogenic bacteria…

  • jack bean

    Watch Doomwatch..is this a good idea?

  • Mad Jayhawk

    Mr. McGuire: I want to say one word to you. Just one word.
    Benjamin: Yes, sir.
    Mr. McGuire: Are you listening?
    Benjamin: Yes, I am.
    Mr. McGuire: Plastics.
    Benjamin: Just how do you mean that, sir?

  • Ron

    A controlled environment generally uses conditions that enhance the desired property. Unfortunately, placing these bacteria in suspended plastic particles and nutrients does not represent the normal habitat for Pseudomonas. Plastic bags present problems as they blow around from place to place but they are almost never in an environment where Pseudomonas could do it’s job. Bags are usually dry or drying. Pseudomonas usually likes it wet. If we could easily collect the bags and place them all in a controlled environment, well, then plastic bags would not be a problem. As some folks mentioned, most people do not care at all about the safety of our planet, so they would always discard bags, cans, paper and bottles improperly. While the plastic presents a problem, the real problem is the inhuman lack of concern. Still, I commend the young investigator for trying. Natural degradation trumps incineration.

  • Joe W

    This is really amazing. My hat goes off to that kid. Honestly how much more simple could it be. What an amazing individual.

  • Paul Gadaloff

    “16. JohnC Says:
    December 16th, 2009 at 12:27 pm
    Michael, this is triumph of science for the world, why do you insist on making it a nationalist thing?
    Now I’m forced to ask you to take a look at last years list of Nobel prize winners and see where the majority are from.”

    John, the Nobel Political Prize isn’t worth anything any more. It was given to Al “the earth’s core is millions of degrees hot” Gore, it was given to Nelson Mandela (who actually did blow up lots of police stations back in the 1960′s and belonged in prison), to Yasser Arafat (who of course regretted any collateral damage from his bombs), to Menachem Begin (ditto last comment), to Kofi Annan (for simply doing his well-paid job) and to Barack Obama (for making speeches about how nice it would be if we could end all nuclear weapons).

    And by the way, you ARE aware that Americans outnumber Canadians about 9 to 1 aren’t you…? Because i’ll understand if you don’t know it….
    Paul G

  • Sum Dumguy

    So… two years have passed why isn’t the world fixed? I just need an update because it’s all hypothetical.

  • thedude

    Sum Dumguy has a point. I’ve have not heard or seen a single “anti-plastic factory” anywhere nor is the world fixed yet. Really, nobody gives a s*** and why not? We are going to blow up ourselves anyway pretty soon.

    [Moderator's note: Edited the cuss word.]

  • http://writinginoxford.wordpress.com/ writinginoxford

    Good work! Eventually microbes will probably evolve to eat the plastic anyway, so I’m not too worried about harmful effects from it. Everything finds it niche.

  • Dan M

    All you bacteria-phobes out there – you’ve been sold by all the dish-soap marketing hysteria that bacteria is like the plague or some crap.

    At this point in time, no body gives a toss about recycling – AND half the plastics we “recycle” end up in 3rd world countries for them to “recycle” the material, and the other half ends up in the land-fill.

    This student has identified an instrumental procedure to reduce plastic mass in a controlled environment by a significant percentage – simply AMAZING, just awesome. We need more youthful minds heading in this direction.

  • Alex

    Right, so let’s just build an enormous refrigerator to store a bunch of plastic at 37 degrees for months while the bacteria reduces the mass by 17%. We might as well construct a carbon-spewing power plant on site to power the refrigerator. But it’ll be worth it because 83% of a bunch of plastic is practically nothing.

  • mak

    a high schooler isolated a strain of bacteria?

  • alex

    Ceo’s destroy the finances of thousands and get golden parachutes… this kid saves the environment and gets enough money to buy textbooks. He should have started his own waste management firm instead. Don’t trust the world to be fair to you- they will eat you alive every time.

  • Girl

    Yes, we should have used hemp, and recycled bags, and cloth bags, but we didn’t. So quit complaining about what we SHOULD HAVE done and do something about the situation we have NOW.

  • Stef

    I think I saw this in a Tick or Captain Planet episode… only thing was… it didn’t go so well, the micro organisms went out of control and everything started to degrade.
    :)

  • Oscar Blanco

    Every chemical process leaves residues, or generates some sort of emission.
    These bacteria, when they eat, they must have some kind of sub-product come from this process, what happens with it? what kind is it? Is it toxic? will it pollute in other ways?

  • Shadeburst

    To answer some of the panicky questions above, bacteria are everywhere and so far they haven’t killed you. One of the richest sources of bacteria in the home is something you put in your mouth twice a day… your toothbrush. A single teaspoon of soil from a garden contains about 2 billion microbes of various sorts including bacteria. Bacteria make our planet habitable by liberating oxygen from solid matter… rocks even! If there were no bacteria in my gut, everything I ate would pass straight through undigested and I would DIE.

    Great work, David Burd, don’t stop now, see if you can design some commercial applications.

  • http://multi-cast.blogspot.com/ Multi cast

    While it is a good idea to use bacteria to decompose the plastic bags, it is also a good idea to eliminate the use of plastic bags.

  • http://asda Saikatanas

    To see how have the scientists really putting an effort, this wasn’t that difficult to come up to. How come with so many problems with plastics and no one give a damn… Congradulations for the kid! He was one of the few that really faced this with the enthusiasm required to solve more environmental problems!!

  • Antonio

    Quote>

    37. Jim Linton Says:
    December 17th, 2009 at 5:59 pm

    For what it is worth, this was the subject of my Master’s Thesis at the University of Cincinnati in 1988. I isolated a bacteria from landfill styrofoam (a strain of Pseudomonas aruginosa) that really chewed plastic.

    Also

    Quote>
    158. Count Zero Says:
    May 4th, 2010 at 2:17 pm

    We don’t need them to bio degrade, we need them to persist. In 50 years the price of plastics will triple, at the very least. It would be nice to have the huge plastic mines that are our contemporary landfills… we will need them.

  • mandapannts

    You all have E. Coli and Salmonella in your stomach RIGHT NOW.
    It’s incredible how many of you idiots are completely ignorant to how bacteria actually works.

    Why not take an into to Biology class before you voice your completely needless concerns.

  • Gideon

    okay mike i think we should start with your reproductive organs and then if we have time move on to any kids you may have. I doubt you feel so keen on the idea do you now see the problems in that solution who wants to volunteer themselves for sterilization.That can be easily refuted by we will make them do it, but doing that would solve the problem many people would die in the war that ensues.

  • Gideon

    A message to all the hemp and cotton bag people. Those bags require plants to produce. Plants are grown in farms. Farms take up environmental space that would otherwise be natural habitat.This loss in natural habitat effects greatly the creatures that once inhabited it.Animals don’t eat cotton or hemp so how is reducing plastics and increasing reusable bags any better.

  • http://www.colinjacobs.co.nr Colin

    This guy deserves the the Nobel Prize for Chemistry! We need to do this on a huge scale!

    Gideon, in response: yes, farms do take up space and animals don’t eat cotton or hemp. But you put up only one side of the “equation”: Animals don’t eat cotton or hemp, but bacteria do. Bacteria that live in our soil. Cotton and hemp are biodegradable!

    Also Gideon, I’d be interested in discussing this further, it’s a very sensitive and controversial debate.

  • Ian

    The real problem is that there are too many humans producing and using plastic bags.

    Please invent a bacteria that consumes humans.

    Oh yeah, the planet did that already.

    Or maybe invent a microbe that releases all the CO2 that is locked up in coal – all that CO2 belongs back in the atmosphere from whence it originally came.

  • Michelle

    I see a lot of commenters arguing that instead of plastic-eating bacteria we need to use less and recycle more. Rather than create an either/or scenario, can we all agree that this can be one of many tools that should be applied to solving our plastics problem? We certainly need to reduce the amount of plastics that are created and used, we need to reuse or recycle them when possible. We need to make it easier to recycle the rarer number plastics. (Every time I see a number 7 in that recycle triangle I get angry – no recycling location for that type around here.) But we also need to be able to deal with all the plastic that will be or has been thrown into the trash anyway. Given how much is already in landfills, we need as many ways to recycle or safely destroy plastics as we can find. Like most problems facing the modern world, there is no one solution that will fix everything. It will take several methods applied simultaneously that really fix modern problems.

  • ELFINSONG

    Cool……….. America……. Lets send all our plastic bags to Canada

  • craig

    Holy crap people are completely stupid on this site. This was the smallest of steps. Finding the optimal bacteria available(specifically available to a high school student) to break down plastics. That’s all this article is and all this student did. I shouldn’t say, “all this student did” as it’s a pretty awesome step to make.

  • Damon

    How ignorant are folks? This is exactly why we won’t find cures, the negativity is just that… Unfortunately – what could be “with the organisms?” The plastic is already taking care of as we speak! This is a step into the right direction! Good job…

  • undan

    You just saved the world ! Now , please do not do it like the corporates do… make it into a simple solution.. how about publishing a open how-to-do-it-at-your-home document?

  • Umiya

    Great initiative from the young generation.

  • SGGS

    Um, using bacteria to degrade plastics has been in the engineering and scientific community for decades. . . . .just saying. The advent of bio-composites and bioplastics relies on these principles. Great job for doing an excellent school project though!

  • SGGS

    And to add to the above sentiments, what this solution displays is society giving itself permission to continue using inefficient and unnecessary technology. The use of plastics as a product should be completely revised.

    In many applications, its very useful and important. But it doesn’t need to be present in retail goods packaging. In your more developed nations (Canada, USA) the sheer amount of waste generated by your excessive consumerism outweighs the total waste produced in developing nations like my own (South Africa). You’re patting this kid on the back because he found one way to make what you do less harmful on the environment.

    The main drivers which keep plastic use so high in consumer goods are:

    1. the (apparent) low cost of the material, and
    2. the fact that many of our goods and produce are manufactured to be preserved far beyond their natural life.

    The entire ethos of consumerism is askew, directly contributing to the threatened state of our natural environment. Plastic bags are merely a symptom, and this kind of solution is akin to a GP finding another treatment to ease the common cold, never looking at the cause. Indeed mankind’s purchasing habits are becoming more and more virulitic to extend that metaphor further.

    Effectively though, consumers, you, me, will never enact change on a meaningful level. We all know what we should not be doing. But we continue to do the same, citing costs and effort and time as the big excuses. Sustainability needs to become a pre-competitive issue, so that as a consumer, you don’t get to choose, because the only goods and services you can support are inherently sustainable.

    Good job kid. Its a pitty your ingenuity is entering the wring end of the funnel.

  • SGGS

    My lat two cents: At Paul G.

    You are an idiot.

  • Megan M>

    How much coal/oil did he use to grind this plastic and transport materials? Is the tradeoff worth it?

    Also, just to think about:
    Most “green” people consider automatic hand dryers to be a good way to preserve our paper resources. We burn more coal in drying our hands than we would use paper. Trees are renewable over minimal years. Coal is renewable over thousands upon thousands of years. Many economists fail to realize that their new inventions create more harm than good.

  • Theodore Lin

    This will be great for areas that plastics can not be collected such as the ocean and what not. If we can collect plastic bags I prefer this guy.
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qGGabrorRS8
    he can change plastic bags into their original form of oil. This is not only environmentally friendly but it is a great business strategy. Piles of plastic bags will be turned back into forms of oil and businesses will flock to this machine and collect as many plastic bags as they can. Money is a huge incentive for this path

  • gerry

    this is a great idea for all the plastic bags we use, but I Ireland prove that a small tax on each bag reduced plastic bags used by over 90% very quickly and now most people user recycled bags. this reduction is better for the environment as it reduces the problem of waste plastic by not creating the waste in the first place.

  • Kristen

    Similar to the oil-eating microbes that saved our proverbial butts by cleaning up the BP oil spill. Yea for microbes!

    Could we do the decomposition on Mars? Or the moon? Build a big landfill out there for the bacterially broken down plastic? Or perhaps a huge vat or biofiltration plant with earthlike pressures and oxygen ratios. Then if the little critters escape, they won’t hurt anybody. The process produces heat, 150 degrees to quote someone above. That would help to melt the ice on the moon, perhaps making it habitable someday.

    The phalates now in our environment because of plastic #5 (biosphenol) have already wreaked havoc on our endocrine systems. What about the toxins released during plastic production in the first place? It’s like we pollute when we create it, and pollute again when we destroy it. Why make the stuff? We can live without all the crazy toys they make out of plastic now. Wooden toys worked just fine and didn’t break after one day! There are some necessary items however. It just makes sense to lower the production of plastic to a bare minimum if we have healthier alternatives, imo.

  • Lorraine

    I do have to say that this is a great discovery, but it would have to be executed extremely carefully. Pseudomonas and Sphingomonas are two bacterial strains that can cause several types of serious illness in humans, so much so that pharmaceutical companies routinely test for these types of organisms in their water supply and in their products. (I spent 8 years in pharmaceuticals, 6 1/2 of it in pharmaceutical microbiology. I’ve had plenty of hands-on experience with these two strains (literally).)

    If this method were utilized to decompose plastic, it would need to be highly regulated. Good for this kid for his findings, though! Innovation is key.

  • whatsitcalled

    I am just glad that high schooler is on this issue than some of these posters. Recreate the environment everywhere? Really? lol!

    This is a great discovery, it just takes a little sorting on our part to make sure they don’t make it to the landfill, duh. Jeez some people refuse to do anything, no matter how small…

    I like what Kirsten says, and similar posts. Reduce, reuse, refuse to refuse!

  • Paul

    Great work by this student. Daniel Burd deserves congratulations — and a research grant. There are also some interesting comments here. What really troubles me, though, is the company’s that make the plastic bags and the companies that distribute the bags to shoppers profit off the bags, then pass the cost of figuring out what to do with the bags on to the rest of society. Shouldn’t the company that profits also be responsible for the full costs of the bags — from production to destruction? Until that happens, society is subsidizing the cost of these products to an extraordinary degree. We are transferring economic wealth from society — the taxpayers who will have to pay for the environmental degradation — to a few small companies, with very little real appreciable benefit other than the convenience factor for individuals too lazy to bring reusable cloth bags to the grocery store. Doesn’t seem like a such a good bargain to me.

    Doesn’t anybody remember paper bags? Not only are they biodegradable, you can recycle them into new paper bags — and trees can be replanted. Considering how much less paper our electronic society is using these days, it wouldn’t put too much additional stress on our forest industry. We should return to paper bags for convenience bags until the dilemma with plastic bags is resolved.

    And for those who show concern for releasing these bacteria into the environment without controls, good for you. History is rife with cases where we released organisms first, asked questions later, and ended up with a huge environmental headache. Nearly all the noxious weeds choking off the native flora and fauna in my hometown are the result of people planting “pretty flowers” in their gardens and thinking “oh, it’s just one or two and they won’t go too far” if they thought about the consequences at all. I’m not saying we need to study the bacteria for a thousand years, but we certainly need to be careful and institute safeguards so we don’t end up with a cure that’s worse than the original problem.

  • Steve

    Paul,

    I work for a company that does recycle the plastic bags and also plastic hangers. We make lentil size pellets out of them and then they are used to make other products. So please don’t say that paper bags are recyclable and plastic bags are not. I am old enough to remember the demise of paper bags. The reason as I remember for those of you with short term memories was that paper bags caused the loss of trees and plastic bags did not. Just the same type of short sighted and misguided statement that you Paul have just made. Both plastic and paper have a definite footprint on the world and it is up to us to limit this footprint with as little inconvenience and expense as possible.

  • Aina

    Why are most people such a party pooper? Sure, the headline might be misleading.. His discovery was made by others before. But give the kid some credit. He pulled off a complicated-sounding experiment (with or without help, never mind). Let him be proud a little. He’s just a school kid for God’s sake!

  • Marijn van der Ploeg

    I don’t think it’s wise to teach bacterie to eat plastic. Read “Mutant 59: the plastic eater” by Gerry Davis and Kit Pedler (http://www.fantasticfiction.co.uk/d/gerry-davis/mutant-59.htm)

  • angelica

    vivan las pseudomonas

  • JohnY

    Perhaps this guy should think about all the radio active waste from Nuclear Power Stations next.
    Good on him & well done!

  • Lucius

    @ Marijn: Do you not see the name of that website??? Fantastic FICTION! Mutant 59 is FICTION!!!! Though based extremely loosely on fact, the story if FICTION!!! This means it is NOT REAL!

    We are not teaching bacteria to do anything. We are allowing them to flourish so that they can do what they already do better.

    This kid deserves to be congratulated, but he is not the first person to “discover” this. There are engineers for certain companies, me being one of them, that already use these bacteria to degrade the excess plastic left over after producing the plastic parts we produce.

    We melt it down and re-use it, but after we do about five or six times, the plastics become unuseable, so we have to dispose of it. What better way than to make it disappear in an environmentally friendly way? The bacteria actually use Carbon Monoxide as a carbon source, so they consume it. They in turn release Carbon Dioxide. The exact same gas that we as humans exhale on a daily basis. Carbon dioxide is then absorbed by plants and trees who produce more clean oxygen. Sounds like a good cycle to me.

  • Alex

    Kim, These bacteria already exist. He didnt create a new strain of bacteria, all he did was find the bacteria that were already eating plastic and breeding them so that they would eat the plastic faster.

  • luke

    The comments combined with this article provide fantastic reading. Thank you all! Hats off to this kid. There aren’t many who attempt to tackle issues like this in the 11th grade!

    As for my opinion (i’m sure someone will take this apart but it will be nice to read some rebuttle) it seems that a financial martyr is required. This would allow the economic barrier to be lifted and for ideas like this to be realised. I’m not saying this is the only solution. In fact, quite the opposite. In any circumstance surrounding an event i see people trying to isolate single mechanisms at fault. When really, it is always combinations of events that lead to said event. So, why not combine mechanisms, such as these bacteria, and allow for variety of ways to solve our problems? We commonly single out foods, fuels and so on for ease of human use & distribution creating problems for ourselves. If we can localise, recycle and vary our use of foods, fuels many world wide problems would be lessened.

    I like the idea of bacteria eating plastic, as it allows for the next stage to be thought about in what could be conceived as a “plastic cycle” similar to the “water cycle” or “carbon cycle”.

    I am currently studying chemistry at university level and enjoy biology & geology and consider myself a bit of an environmentalist. So i understand the subject matter quite well. If anyone has any thoughts on this please say them/ forward links. Cheers.

  • http://www.lookingafterorchids.com repotting orchids

    the high school boy is truly unbelievable. He deserves the recognition. This act will hopefully help people to be more aware of the problem plastic gives to the environment. We shall refuse and stop using plastic and use paper bags instead. This will help mother nature cure and nourish itself throughout the years. Most of all, let’s all plants trees and flowers like blooming orchids in your garden.

  • Skeptic

    Honestly, it’s not that cool. Hundreds of documented bacteria can metabolize plastic polymers. All this kid did was take some dirty and mix it with plastic for a few months, spread the final culture on a plate, then mixed them together with plastic again. Freshman level biology.

    I’m actually skeptical of the fact that he was able to purify to only two strains after 3 months, especially using yeast extract. Many bacteria can sporulate and survive that long without any food, some can live off trace compounds just floating around in the air, and even more can live off yeast extract. To be able to purify from tens of thousands of strains in the dirt to just 2 in three months sounds a little impossible to me when the only selection factor is some plastic present in the media.

    I would like to see him reproduce these results or provide the strains to the scientific community to verify them. Until his results are reviewed and published, no one will take his work seriously, or provide him with a grant.

  • margaret

    I totally agree with what Kate said over a year ago:

    “If we all used cloth bags none of this would be necessary. Reduce first, reuse next and then recycle. We don’t need plastic bags and our selfish use of resources to make something we don’t need and then putting something into like this in motion to get rid of the thing we don’t need seems absurd to me. It’s nice that the kids in school are thinking about these things but the headline, Kid Solves Massive Environmental Problem seems a bit misguided.”

    Reduce consumption and demand of plastic bags, and less will be produced. Defeatist attitudes (“Well we don’t currently use hemp or cloth bags; it’ll take forever to get everyone to change their habits”) won’t solve anything. If we put our energy and creativity into promoting more sustainable alternatives to plastic bags (and practicing them!), maybe we’d get somewhere. Often times solutions to environmental problems are not necessarily more technological breakthroughs or discoveries, but a matter of simplifying our lives and living more as nature intended.

    That said… use reusable bags!

  • Sarah

    I find it very distressing that quite a few people are turning this wonderful discovery into a recycling campaign. I don’t know about the rest of the world… but my garbage goes into a plastic bag. This is not because I hate the environment, but because the garbage collection agency in my town requires it to be so. (P.S. I also recycle and compost for my garden, so I don’t produce a whole lot of garbage…) Yes, use your cloth bags at the grocery store, but this is a great way to cut down on the plastics that will, inevitably, end up in the landfills.

    I say… Great Job! Any kind of help we can get is greatly appreciated! Keep up the good work! And don’t pay attention to the naysayers… they’re just jealous.

  • http://idontneedabag.wordpress.com Joe McVeigh

    This is great news. I hate getting plastic bags from the store. I even went so far as to start my own blog to relieve the stress of all the times I have to say, “I don’t need a bag!”

    If anyone else would like to contribute, go here: http://idontneedabag.wordpress.com

    Hats of to Daniel Burd for his science project.

  • http://www.michellelovesdogs.com Michelle McGuckin

    Way to go Daniel. It’s nice to see kids taking their projects at school to a new level.

  • http://sciencefairproject5thgrade.zanzeo.com Danielle Parsons

    I think the real point here is the simplicity of this kid’s approach. The bacteria are extremely common and would not pose a health problem when used under controlled circumstances, maybe something like a vat where the plastics could be “cooked”. This is a perfect example of the value of Science Fair. You go, kid!!

  • Anonymous

    This is impressive, however what really needs to be done is to harness the energy from that bacterial growth, because this process does add CO2 (cellular respiration) to the atomosphere much faster than normally degrading plastic.

    That said burying all that plastic somewhere instead (where it will not have as great an environmental impact as it would in say the ocean) would take consider energy supplies and emit a lot of CO2.

    So its kind of a tough call, but definitely something that needs looking into, and definitely an impressive idea.

  • Anonymous

    These bacteria have already been unleashed upon the world, he just took them from the world and put them in a container with some plastic that would help them break it down more efficiently.

  • Little Droplet

    They could make a plastic farm where these organisms would consume the plastic, the next question I have is what could the organisms be used for, after they consume the plastic?

    • Junto

      Consuming more plastic.

  • Offtherewing

    Though nice to see his creativity….why not just change the bags back into oil, like the guy from Japan did?? 

  • Lisa

    As plastic decomposes, doesn’t it release harmful chemicals into the air?

  • Derpaherpahurphurp

    That’s a nice little hypothesis you got there, Willy. But why don’t you put it to the test before you try to sound smart on the internet?

  • Lance

    yeah, let’s go introduce two strains of bacteria to the middle of the ocean, hope no one here eats tuna

  • Robert McCall

    To the people who have made recent comments in this thread. You do realize that this article was posted almost 4 years ago? The really interesting thing about that is it would appear that this kid, and his plastic eating bacteria, have never been heard from again.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Daniel-Bevan/1131759532 Daniel Bevan

    Stupid, this technology is already in practice.

  • ivanlur

    So the microbes consume the plastic, turning it into what?
    - If it just makes the plastic smaller. This is not good.
    - If it turns it into something more toxic. Not good.
    - If it turns it into something organic. Why are we wasting time?

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