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A plastic-eating fungus is cleaning up the ocean better than we are

Published Jun 5th, 2024 7:44PM EDT
microplastics in ocean current
Image: dottedyeti / Adobe

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Amid the layers of microbes surrounding the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, scientists have discovered a plastic-eating fungus called Parengyodontium album, which appears to be eating away at some of the plastic there. The findings are detailed in a study featured in Science of the Total Environment, and so far, it seems to be doing a better job of cleaning up than we are. At least, sort of.

I say sort of because while P. album does eat away at some plastics—most notably UV-exposed carbon-based polyethylene (which also happens to be the most commonly used plastic)—it doesn’t do this very quickly. So, while it is technically eating away at the garbage patch that has infiltrated the Pacific Ocean, it can’t do it fast enough to keep up with all the plastic still going into the ocean each year.

plastic pollution
Plastic pollution from the ocean. Image source: vladimirzuev/Adobe

That’s why it’s still important for us, as consumers, to try to cut out as much single-use plastic as we can. But what the discovery of this plastic-eating fungus does mean is that we may be able to find a better way to clean up the plastics infesting our oceans. See, one of the biggest problems with cleaning up the Great Pacific Garbage Patch is that just going in and scooping it up would affect a lot of marine life.

That’s why scientists have been looking for better ways to break down plastic and clean it up instead of having to go in and bother the marine life in the oceans even more than we already are. What’s most notable about this new fungus is that it seems to only affect plastic that has been exposed to UV light, something that already breaks down plastic by itself mechanically.

The discovery of plastic-eating bacteria has also given scientists hope that we might find an actual solution to the problem that continues to plague our planet. Some researchers have even created plastic that eats itself after it reaches the landfill, another huge advancement that will hopefully help cut down on the amount of plastic waste overrunning us.

Josh Hawkins has been writing for over a decade, covering science, gaming, and tech culture. He also is a top-rated product reviewer with experience in extensively researched product comparisons, headphones, and gaming devices.

Whenever he isn’t busy writing about tech or gadgets, he can usually be found enjoying a new world in a video game, or tinkering with something on his computer.