Waterloo Teen Discovers How To Decompose Plastic

June 4, 2008

Just as I was starting to really get excited about biodegradable bags, some kid has to go an figure out how to decompose real plastic! Sheesh!

All joking aside, this is actually very cool! It seems that one Daniel Burd, a WCI student, took it upon himself this year to figure out how to breakdown plastic as part of a school science project. He has apparently refined the process to the point where plastic bags should be able to be broken down in about three months! Certainly a lot more impressive than the 1000 years it can take to decompose these materials under normal conditions.

Here is an excerpt from an article in the Record (link to follow):

At 37 degrees and optimal bacterial concentration, with a bit of sodium acetate thrown in, Burd achieved 43 per cent degradation within six weeks.

The plastic he fished out then was visibly clearer and more brittle, and Burd guesses after six more weeks, it would be gone. He hasn’t tried that yet.

To see if his process would work on a larger scale, he tried it with five or six whole bags in a bucket with the bacterial culture. That worked too.

Industrial application should be easy, said Burd. “All you need is a fermenter . . . your growth medium, your microbes and your plastic bags.”

The inputs are cheap, maintaining the required temperature takes little energy because microbes produce heat as they work, and the only outputs are water and tiny levels of carbon dioxide — each microbe produces only 0.01 per cent of its own infinitesimal weight in carbon dioxide, said Burd.

“This is a huge, huge step forward . . . We’re using nature to solve a man-made problem.”

Be sure to check out the full article: WCI student isolates microbe that lunches on plastic bags

Obviously, as exciting as this is, it is still really important to try and cut down on our use of plastic in general. That being said, this may one day lead to viable large-scale solution for the vast quantities of waste plastic filling our landfills!

Way to go, Daniel! This is an outstanding accomplishment.

[tags]plastic, plastic bags, daniel burd, wci, waterloo region, science project, decomposition, microbes, fermentation[/tags]

Biobag Breaks Down Faster Than Expected

June 4, 2008

Just before going away for a bit of a vacation in the middle of May, I decided to test out a couple of the Biobags I had recently received in the mail. I filled one of the doggy poop bags with some bean salad (past its prime) and tossed it into the middle of a large worm bin containing 5 lbs of hungry Red Wigglers. I then went away for two weeks.

When I got back I looked around in the bin and could find NO trace of the bag or its contents. Finally, a number of days later I did manage to find one remnant (shown in the picture above). I guess those worms were really hungry!

I’ve been testing Biobag Food Waste Bags in my outdoor composters as well. I haven’t seen results quite so dramatic, but they certainly seem to be breaking down quite nicely.

[tags]biobags, biodegradable plastic, bioplastic, biodegradable, biopolymer, corn starch plastic, vermicomposting, worm composting, compost bin, composter[/tags]