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Plastic eating microbes (theoretical!)

Discussion in 'Personal' started by CheeseMongler, Feb 28, 2020.


Would you release these microbes?

  1. Yes

    1 vote(s)
  2. No

    3 vote(s)
  1. CheeseMongler

    CheeseMongler Lead commenter

    If you had the choice, what would you do if scientists managed a bacteria/microbe that could digest all plastics? These are microbes that would be harmless if ingested by animals and can form parts of food chains. However, as these microbes digest the plastic, they release significantly more carbon dioxide into the atmosphere.
    Would you release the theoretical microbe into the oceans, into landfill sites... let them clear the plastic waste that's affecting ecosystems? Or do you think that the possible hammer blow to AGW (if you believe in it) would be the end of human civilisation?

    To deny to first voter the sole privilege of seeing how I vote I'll tell you all. I would release the microbe.
    It's not an easy choice for me, because I understand AGW to be real. This means that in the worst case scenario, I would be committing the planet to death and it may end up like Venus. However, if that's going to happen, we'll end up there anyway... and with that pessimistic outlook, my best case scenario is that it's not "too" bad for human civilisation. There'll be famines, wars due to mass relocation, fall outs that affect everyone and billions may die... but the ecosystem wouldn't. Life would thrive in this environment (in my very hypothetical scenario) with plastic that is killing them essentially being converted into food for them.

    Edit - Not just aimed at you @lanokia just what prompted me to write this! PS - you were right, I didn't mean to demand justification for that thread.
  2. lanokia

    lanokia Star commenter

    CheeseMongler likes this.
  3. Mangleworzle

    Mangleworzle Star commenter

    Plastic in landfill is stored carbon, I see no advantage to releasing it, is seems like it would be a pyrrhic "victory". There's no more reason to do this than to release a similar bacterium into crude oil or coal.
    border_walker likes this.
  4. CheeseMongler

    CheeseMongler Lead commenter

    Okay, just the oceans then! Yay or Nay?
  5. monicabilongame

    monicabilongame Star commenter

    No. There's far too much medical equipment that is made of, or includes, plastic in its makeup.
    Duke of York and border_walker like this.
  6. gainly

    gainly Lead commenter

    There would be no way of restricting them to consuming only waste plastic. They would probably rapidly multiply out of our control and start digesting all sorts of essential and useful plastic items.
  7. magic surf bus

    magic surf bus Star commenter

    I'm pretty certain the sci fi series Doomwatch addressed that issue back in the 1970s with an episode about plastic eating microbes getting out of control.
    colacao17 likes this.
  8. CheeseMongler

    CheeseMongler Lead commenter

    Is that medical equipment not sterilised so that microbes are not present? What sort of other "essential" items are made of plastic? I also think you may be getting carried away, I'm not imagining anything totally sci-fi that would eat a dustbin in 10 seconds. I'm thinking of microbes that work at a similar rate to the microbes that break down organic materials... cotton, wood, paper.
    I sit this typing on a plastic keyboard, with plastic containing clothing and surrounded by plastic containing items. If they "caught" this bacteria, I envisage a mould forming like mildrew at worst. I'd then clean it off with an antibacterial spray and it wouldn't come back for a while.
  9. magic surf bus

    magic surf bus Star commenter

    What if your plastic toilet waste pipe caught the bacteria below the floorboards? Plenty of essentials are made of plastic.
    monicabilongame likes this.
  10. border_walker

    border_walker Lead commenter

  11. border_walker

    border_walker Lead commenter

    And likely to mutate out of control.
  12. border_walker

    border_walker Lead commenter

    Dead organisms have lost the ability to fight the decay organisms, but the plastic doesn't to would affect all plastic.
    Have always assumed that from the point of view of locking up CO2 plastic was doing a good job, just needs storing in a tidier way.
    Mangleworzle likes this.
  13. Mangleworzle

    Mangleworzle Star commenter

    Perhaps we need to reassess and instead of trying (and largely failing) to recycle plastics, accept that it represents locked-up carbon and focus on efficiently collecting it and sending it to landfill in a similar way that the crude oil it came from was in long term landfill. Maybe in the future with better technology such landfills could then be mined.

    We've known about hydrocarbon decomposing bacteria for a long time, here's a fairly recent article: https://phys.org/news/2018-04-oil-eating-bacterium-pollution.html

    I think one of the concerns about trying to improve such approaches is that they could start to live in fossil fuel stores from refineries to the tank in your car, if not actually scoffing the lot, at least contaminating it.
    border_walker and lanokia like this.
  14. Duke of York

    Duke of York Star commenter

    If medical equipment such as syringes wasn't made from disposable plastic, the cost of production would go through the roof. They'd have to be recycleable, which means sterilising them at huge cost. We can hardly afford the NHS as it is. Without the use of plastics, healthcare would revert back to pre-NHS standards.

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