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The Age of Plastic

By: Fariha Husain

With the large amounts of plastic found in our homes, landfills and the natural environment, this post discusses some of the large-scale issues surrounding ‘The Age of Plastic’.

Does plastic biodegrade?

Most plastics are derived from petroleum, the end-product of decaying ancient organisms. If petroleum-based plastics are derived from biomaterials, why aren’t they biodegradable? To answer this question, it is important to understand a fundamental step in plastic production. Petroleum-based plastics are derived from a unit chemical component of petroleum that bond and form long chains when heated. These bonds require a large amount of heat energy to form, making this very unlikely to occur in nature. Subsequently, the organisms that are responsible for the biodegradation of organic materials generally do not possess the metabolic capabilities to break down these strong bonds. Earlier this year, however, a breakthrough discovery revealed that 100 Galleria mellonella worms can consume 92 milligrams of polyethylene—the most common type of plastic – in approximately 12 hours. Although results from this study are not conclusive, these worms have the potential to reverse much of the damage caused by plastic pollution in our environment. (more…)