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How to get rid of plastic: Cook it and feed it to fungi

White Rot FungusMixing a bit of ultraviolet “cooking” with a special blend of fungi could provide an eco-friendly recipe for getting rid of bisphenol A (BPA) in plastic waste.

BPA is used to make a wide variety of polycarbonate plastic goods, going into everything from water bottles and eyeglass lenses to CDs and DVDs. The problem with BPA, though, is that it’s an endocrine disruptor that can mess with a body’s normal hormonal functions. That’s raised particular concern for babies and young children who can be exposed to BPA via baby bottles and plastic food containers, among other things.

Studies have also identified BPA as an environmental pollutant that can interfere with plant growth and animal reproduction.

With some 2.7 million tonnes of plastic with BPA being produced every year, that’s a serious concern … especially since recycling isn’t anywhere close to universal.

Two Indian researchers, though, believe they might have found a solution: pretreating plastic with ultraviolet light and heat, and then exposing it to three kinds of fungi — including white-rot fungus, which is already used to help clean up environmental toxins.

Mukesh Doble and Trishul Artham, both researchers at the Indian Institute of Technology, found that the fungi grow better on pretreated plastic and, by using the BPA and other ingredients as an energy source, help break down the plastic. In fact, their experiments showed that pretreated plastics, unlike untreated ones, had substantially decomposed after 12 months — with no release of BPA into the environment.

“Chemical recycling of polycarbonate waste has gained great importance during recent years,” Doble and Artham write in their study, published by the American Chemical Society. “This is not an environmentally benign process, so it is essential to address the waste disposal problem through biological means because biodegradation offers an efficient benign and ‘green’ solution to tackle the waste management.”

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