Plastic Eating Fungi Discovered in Amazon

The Amazon river basin is without a doubt the most biodiverse region on the planet. Researchers are continuing to discover new species every year. Recently, a group from Yale University discovered a fungus that appears to be quite content eating plastic in airless landfills, an environment too harsh for even the world’s most industrious bacteria.

The group of students who carried home the fungi were part of Yale’s annual Rainforest Expedition and Laboratory with molecular biochemistry professor Scott Strobel. The group was working in the jungles of Ecuador to search for plants and culture the microorganisms within the plant tissue.  One of these microorganism, a fungus previously unknown to science, could prove vital in the global fight against waste pollution due to its eager appetite for polyurethane, a widely used plastic product.

Polyurethane is a popular plastic due to its longevity and resistance to decomposition. Used in everything from garden hoses and Spandex to shoes and foam seating, polyurethane will persist in the environment for generations. While no one complains about how their garden hose can take a beating all summer without disintegrating, most polyurethane products will be discarded eventually. Once they enter the waste stream, they stay there indefinitely.

The newly discovered fungi, Pestalotiopsis microspora, is the first known microorganisms to survive on a diet of polyurethane alone. And just as importantly, it is able to do so in an anaerobic (oxygen-free) environment, similar to the rather extreme conditions inside of a landfill. Environmental engineers have long used veracious microorganisms to treat municipal waste-water, but this discover could mean a significant shift in the management of solid waste. I would not be upset if we stopped burning our trash or burying it, hoping that it will simply disappear. Landfills have always stuck me as a very stupid concept and a frustratingly low-tech solution for such an advanced country to endorse.

American Society of Microbiology via Co.EXIST

Nothing Wasted: Recycling Plastic Number 5

Preserve, a company manufacturing high performance, eco-friendly products for your home, has created the first high-quality product from recycled plastics- the Preserve Toothbrush. Made from recycled yogurt cups, the toothbrush gets your teeth cleaner while minimizing your impact on the environment.

The toothbrush is designed with a curved handle to clean those hard-to-reach places, while a three-level bristle arrangement gently massages your gums. The handle of the toothbrush is made from 100% recycled #5 plastic, while the bristles are made from new nylon. The toothbrush is BPA free and is also completely recyclable after use.

When you are finished with the toothbrush, you can send it back to Preserve, who will give the toothbrush to a partner company. This company will grind it up and turn it into plastic lumber to be used in new picnic tables, park benches, and boardwalks.

As a company, Preserve strives to combine socially and environmentally responsible business practices with groundbreaking designs in order to create products that people feel good about having in their homes. Founded in 1996, Preserve’s President Eric Hudson was committed to the need to use the earth’s resources more efficiently and responsibly. Hudson saw the developing plastic recycling marked as a great opportunity to reuse the earth’s resources. Hudson started Preserve to reuse Earth’s resources and turn them back into products that people wanted. Since creating the Preserve Toothbrush, the company has grown and now offers a range of everyday products from razors, colanders, and cutting boards, to tableware and more.

By choosing Preserve Plastic, consumers are investing in a company dedicated to reducing greenhouse gas emissions, and using less water, energy, oil, natural gas, and coal in the production of plastic products.


Backpacks of Recycled Plastic Bottles

The most eco-friendly products are often those made from recycled materials because this reprocessing prevents large quantities of reusable material from being buried away in landfills. Plastic bottles are particularly significant because plastic bottles, unlike glass bottles, cannot be reprocessed over and over again. Eventually the polymers that make up the plastic start to break down and leach into the water inside the bottle, which is obviously not a good thing.

The people at GreenSmart are using recycled plastic bottles to produce a fabric-like material that can be used to manufacture backpacks, laptop sleeves, messenger bags, and other simple products.  This recycled plastic fabric is a safe and environmentally friendly use for tons upon tons of discarded plastic water bottles, bottles that if placed in a landfill would practically never decompose.

This fabric is made by collecting bottles, grinding the plastic into flakes, removing any impurities (i.e. any non-plastic material), and forming the bits of plastic into fiber through a process known as polymerization. This raw fiber is finally spun, just like wool or cotton, into yarn and woven into the fabrics that compose GreenSmart’s products. According to Greensmart, the fabric production process uses less energy than making polyester out of refined petroleum, adding even greater credibility to the eco-conscious character of these bags and backpacks.

Source GreenSmart

Recycled Newspaper Wood

The ethical arguments that motivate recycling and material reuse are really quite simple: to reduce our raw material consumption and our impact on the natural environment we need to reuse and recycle as much as possible. Naturally, this is much easier said than done. Even given a community that is producing recyclable waste and given a large enough population that is willing to pay for the waste to be recycled rather than land-filled, there is still the very relevant issue of finding a use for all the reprocessed material. Glass is not really an issue. Glass can be melted down and reused an infinite number of times without any loss in material quality (and at a lower energy demand than was required to turn sand into glass). Metal has to be meticulously separated (nickel with nickel, steel with steel, etc), but metal too can easily be reused. Plastics are a whole other story, but we wont go into that. Paper can be easily processed, but the ink cannot be removed from the reprocessed paper pulp. Therefore, office paper cannot be turned back into office paper. The great dilemma then becomes finding a good, energy efficient use for the enormous quantity of recyclable paper that is being produced and disposed of all the time.

One Dutch designer, Mieke Meijer, has addressed this issue with the creation of Newspaper Wood, an alternative building material that, just as the name suggests, is made from recycled newspapers. Called Kranthout (that’s newspaper in Dutch), the product has been developed for the design company vij5. To produce this unique type of building material, the individual pages of a newspaper are rolled together by a machine and outputted in the form of magazine sized newspaper “logs”. These “logs” are then milled into newspaper “planks.” Perhaps you have noticed that once the newspaper has been processed by the specially engineered machine, it is basically treated as real wood. The newspaper “planks” are even drilled and sanded as needed. The way that the newspaper has been pressed together even gives the resulting wood the illusion of having grains, even if the lines are colored and sprinkled with text.

This new building material is still in the design faze. The creators of Kranthout are improving on the manufacturing process as well as developing products in which the newspaper wood can be used. The thought of a desk made entirely out of newspaper immediately pops into my mind. Naturally, the wood will not have enough tensile strength for any load bearing application, but simple things like fences or the detailing of a house seem like a very reasonable application. Mostly importantly, the abundance and cheap supply of newspaper means that Kranthout could someday be very widely available. This truly is an innovative re-purposing of recycled materials. The designers have even made sure that the glue used to form the wood can be dissolved if needed, meaning that the newspaper wood can again be recycled once it has reached the end of its life.

Mieke Meijer’s kranthout was presented as part of the Rematerializing the Future (as shown in the images below). The exhibition was put on by Material Sense as part of Dutch Design Week.

Source: World Changing