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Mushroom With Appetite for Plastic: Solution to Plastic Pollution?

by | April 12, 2019

If you thought mushrooms were only good as a tasty part of a meal, think again! It looks like nature has come to aid humans in battling plastic pollution with a mushroom that devours plastic. Yes, the very thing that is a bane to the environment. Pestalotiopsis microspora, what the strangely heroic mushroom is scientifically named, can disintegrate polyurethane, the main component of plastic. Sounds mushroo-merizing right?  Read on to learn more.

plastic pollution
Credit: by Jens Ackermann/ Shutterstock

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Mushroom can help in combating plastic pollution?

Estimations say somewhere around 300 million units of plastic waste are created annually. Not only does it end up in seas, it becomes a “pain in the drain” (if you know what I mean), clogging pipe outlets, or even strangling animals. All this because plastics are everywhere, and it is utterly concerning. Plastics fill countless land pits and what is more dangerous, plastic doesn’t disintegrate, but stays as it is for hundreds of years. But, now maybe there is a hero who will battle the bane called plastics out from our lives. At least it has potential.

The whole matter of a mushroom devouring on plastic might sound unrealistic, but not after you come to know that a 2012 finding by students of Yale University confirmed it is true. Students at Yale University found that a rare and specific species of mushroom can chow down plastics and even more interesting, the mushrooms can sustain on plastics alone. Pestalotiopsis Microspora is found in Amazon rainforests, and it consumes plastic and converts the polyurethane (a key plastic ingredient) into organic matter, and that’s incredible.

To me, the mushroom is nothing short of a hero. I mean why not? It can reportedly sustain without oxygen, making it a hugely potent medium to clean landfills.

In the wake of concerns

The European Union has voted for a ban of single-use plastic, but this approach doesn’t begin to affect the major problems that we are currently facing. For example, the garbage mass twice the size of Texas that is floating on the Pacific. According to an article by Yup That Exists, if the relatively new mushrooms seem too big an expectant to clean the monstrous garbage patch, scientists are nonetheless hopeful that the discovery will positively affect the way we use plastic. For example, building home kits and community centers for recycling systems using these mushrooms.

Credit: by Vikentiy Elizarov/ Shutterstock
Mushroom can help in combating plastic pollution?

And yes, if, after getting to know the prowess of the fungus is worrying you, that if ever they themselves turn monstrously overgrown mushrooms after gulping the world’s plastic, then let me soothe your nerves. Katharina Unger, the lead researcher at a Utrecht University study found there are several plastic-devouring mushrooms and some are as common as the oyster mushroom, and you can even eat them (although the U.S. lists Oyster mushroom as inedible). Unger hilariously mentioned, although there will be no traces of plastic in the finished product (mushrooms), it will be rather difficult convincing public to eat the “sweet with the smell of anise or licorice” mushrooms.

The mushroom looks promising. If things go well, we can truly battle the world’s plastic pollution. Under controlled conditions, the mushroom reportedly breaks down plastic at a much faster rate than plastic naturally disintegrates. And once broken down, there is only flaky mushroom left that can be turned back to the soil.

The world right now is amidst many issues, pollution through plastic being one of them. Irresponsible usage of natural resources has caused global climate change. Such unique outcomes have potential, but how practically effective they are, only time will tell. What do you think about the hero mushrooms and the current position of the environment? Let us know in comments.


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