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Why the world's plastic problems are harder to solve than a massive cleaning

A As you read this, a strange object that looks like a 2,000-foot floating pool noodle is driven slowly through…

A As you read this, a strange object that looks like a 2,000-foot floating pool noodle is driven slowly through the central North Pacific. This object is designed to solve a huge environmental problem. But it does pay attention to a number of others.

There are approximately 5 trillion pieces of plastic floating on and in the oceans of the world. The massive pool noodle will move through the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, powered by wind and currents, picking up the plastic as it meets the road. Ocean Cleanup, the organization that developed the unit, promises “the greatest warming in history.”

See also: The Great Pacific Garbage Patch is Officially Double As Texas [1

9659002] If that works, the device – dizzying the name System 001 – can make a fool in the huge amount of ocean-borne plastic. But when the plastic is collected, the options are not good. It’s there an environmentalist I’ll start thinking about where this plastic will end next time. The sea is better without it, of course, but the plastic problem has many more layers than it first appears.

The Battle of Sorting

Plastic recycling is only possible if it can be carefully separated into its various chemical types. What people generally describe with the simple word “plastic” include seven main types of materials – those used to make sodas, trays, garments, shopping bags, yogurt containers, fish nets, foam insulation and non-metal parts of many household appliances. Recycling of each of these types, which you may know through their acronyms – such as PETE, LDPE, PVC, PP and HDPE – require another chemical process.

Therefore, many domestic recycling programs invite residents to sort their plastic why societies that allow people to put recyclable of all types into a large basket, use people and machines to sort after it gathered.

Sorting does not get easy with the plastic in the ocean. All different types of plastic are blended together, and some of it has been chemically and physically broken by sunlight and wave measures. Much of it is now in small pieces called microplastics, suspended just below the surface. The first difficulty, but not the latter, will sort all the plastic – plus seaweed, children‘s vessels and other marine life that may be connected to floating rubbish.

Recycling or degradation?

Ocean Cleanup is working on how to best build and brand, the material that collects, hoping that a willing market will arise for its unique product. Although company engineers and researchers can find out how to sort everything, there are physical limitations on how useful the overall plastic will be.

The recycling reaction means that materials are thrown into very small pieces before they melt and reform. An inevitable part of the process is that each time plastic is recycled, the polymers – the long chemical sequences that render their structure – become shorter.

Typically, lighter and more flexible plastic types can be recycled to dense, tougher materials – unless large amounts of new virgin plastic are added to the mixture. After one or two rounds of recycling, the possibilities for reuse will be very limited. At that time, the “nip” plastic material is format for textiles, car bumpers or plastic discs, none of which end anywhere else but landfill. The plastic becomes rubbish.

Plastic Composting

What happens if it was a way to make sure that plastic is truly recyclable in the long run? Most bacteria can not break down plastic because the polymers contain strong carbon-carbon-chemical bonds that differ from anything developed by bacteria along with nature. Fortunately, after being in the environment with human wasted plastic for a number of decades, bacteria appear to be developing to use this synthetic raw material that permeates modern life.

 Sea Turtles Turtles have not yet been developed to eat plastic

In 2016, a team of biologists and material researchers found a bacterium that can eat the type of plastic used in beverage bottles. The bacteria make PET plastic more basic substances that can be converted to irregular plastic. After identifying the key enzyme in the bacterial plastic depression process, the research team deliberately continued to construct the enzyme to make it more effective. One researcher said the engineering work succeeded in “overcoming evolution”.

At this time, breakthroughs work only in laboratory conditions and only on one of the seven types of plastic. But the idea of ​​going beyond the natural development is the attention of ears from an environmental philosopher.

Synthetic enzymes and bacteria

The discovery of the plastic eating bacterium and its enzyme took a lot of looking, waiting and testing. Evolution is not always fast. The results indicate the possibility of detecting additional enzymes that work with other plastics. But they also increase the ability to take things in their own hands and design new enzymes and microbes.

Already, completely artificial proteins appear encoded by synthetically engineered genes as artificial enzymes and catalyze reactions in cells. A researcher claims that “we can develop proteins – it would usually have taken billions of years to develop – in a matter of months.” In other laboratories, synthetic genomes completely built of bottles of chemicals can now run bacterial cells. Completely synthetic cells – genomes, metabolic processes, functional cellular structures and everything – are considered to be just a decade away.

See also: A 7th grade built an underwater rover to save sea from microplasticism

This upcoming era of synthetic biology promises not only to change which organisms can do; it threatens to change which organisms are actually. Bacteria will no longer be just natural forms of life; Some, even many, of them will be custom-built microbes explicitly designed to provide features that are useful to humans, such as compost plaster. The boundary between life and machine will be blurred.

The plastic that pollutes the world’s ocean must be cleaned. Bringing them back to land would reinforce the fact that it’s also impossible to throw debris “away” – it just goes somewhere for a while. But people should be very careful about the technical solutions they use. I can not help but see the irony to try to solve the very real problem with too many synthetic materials that scratch the oceans by introducing to the world’s trillions of synthetically produced proteins or bacteria to clean them up.


This article was originally published on The Conversation of Christopher J. Preston. (F, b, e, v, n, t, s) {if (f.fbq) return; n = f.fbq = function () {n.callMethod? N .callMethod.apply (n, argument) :; (! f.fbq)! n.queue.push (argument)} to f._fbq = n; n.push = n; n.loaded = 0; n.version = & # 39; 2.0 & # 39 ;; n.queue = []; t = b.createElement (e); t.async = 0; t.src = v; s = b.getElementsByTagName (e) [0]; s.parentNode. insertbefore (t, s)} (window, document, “script”, “https: //connect.facebook.net/en_US/fbevents.js”); fbq (& # 39; init & # 39 ;, & # 39; 1455869871397255 & # 39;); fbq & # 39 ;, & # 39; Pageview & # 39;); fbq (& # 39; Tracks, & # 39; ViewContent & quot;, & quot; content_category & # 39 ;: & # 39; Science & # 39 ;, & # 39; content_ids & # 39 ;: [“85e1e5d4-c91c-494a-a57b-aadf6db53781″,”Oceans”,”Biology”,”Climate Change”,”Environment”,”Evolution”,”Explainer”,”Syndication”,”Standard”] “content_name”: “page_view”, “content_type”} & # 39;);
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