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Environment

This Plastic-Eating Fungus Just Might Save Humanity

Flickr/Alan Levine

There's a common saying that, "One many's trash is another man's treasure."

For one group of scientists, this old adage may actually have some truth to it. 

According to the World Economic Forum, a team of botanists may have discovered a solution to the world’s mounting plastic problem in an unexpected place: a garbage dump in Islamabad, Pakistan. 

The team of researchers, who work at the Chinese Academy of Sciences’ Kunming Institute of Botany, discovered a plastic-eating fungus called Aspergillus tubingensis while collecting soil samples at the Pakistan landfill. 

“We wanted to identify solutions which already existed in nature, but finding microorganisms which can do the job isn’t easy,” Dr. Sehroon Khan of the World Agroforestry Centre and Kunming Institute of Biology said. “We decided to take samples from a rubbish dump in Islamabad, Pakistan, to see if anything was feeding on the plastic in the same way that other organisms feed on dead plant or animal matter.”

The fungus they discovered works to naturally biodegrade a certain type of plastic called polyester polyurethane — which is found in synthetic leather, adhesives, and car parts, according to Fast Company — by secreting an enzyme that breaks down molecular bonds. 

Scientists have discovered a plastic-eating fungus in Pakistan

In a rubbish dump. Read more: http://wef.ch/2wuiQUh

Posted by World Economic Forum on Friday, September 15, 2017

According to DAWN, the process takes just a matter of weeks, whereas plastics normally take up to 1,000 years to biodegrade in landfills on their own.

Even biodegradable plastics, such as polylactic acid (PLA), which is a type of plastic made from corn, take between 47 and 90 days to decompose

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Read More: Scientists Discover Plastic-Eating Caterpillars That Could Help Fight Waste

The issue of plastic waste is fast becoming one of the greatest threats to natural ecosystems on land and in the ocean. 

Plastic waste is polluting the world’s oceans at a rate of 8 million metric tons per year, throttling seals, turtles, and other sea creatures, and even seeping into drinking water. By 2050, it’s estimated that the ocean will have more plastic than fish

What doesn’t land in the oceans more often than not ends up clogging city streets, polluting natural environments, and wasting away in landfills around the world. Around the world, 79% of all plastic is either littered into the natural environment or collected in landfills, according to National Geographic. 

Read More: 83% of All Tap Water Around the World Has Plastic Fibers In It

By 2050, 12 billion metric tons of plastic will have accumulated in landfills around the world, National Geographic reported. 

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Harmful chemicals from plastics buried in landfills can also seep into groundwater supplies, leading to adverse health consequences for humans and animals alike. 

Researchers at Kunming Institute plan to study whether the plastic-eating fungus will be able to be used in waste treatment plants and plastic-waste-contaminated soils. 

Global Citizen campaigns on the Global Goals for Sustainable Development, the 15th of which is protecting life on land. You can take action here