Plastics are a free dinner for life on Earth so it was just a matter of time before microbes evolved to eat it.
A PET bottle normally takes 16 – 48 years to break down, but if it were lunch for microflora it would take weeks instead. Hydrocarbons are ultimately just different forms of C-H-O waiting to be liberated as carbon dioxide and water. The only question was “how long” it would take bacteria and fungi to break those unusual bonds.
Sooner or later all plastic will be biodegradable.
The first bacteria known to chew through PET bottles was discovered at a Japanese rubbish dump in 2016. But we had no idea then just how advanced the microbial world of plastic processing was.
Instead of hunting for single bacteria Zrimec et al mined through collected metagenomes of soil and ocean and found not just 5 or 10 new enzymes but 30,000. It appears that they could metabolize at least ten different types of plastic.
And in places where there was more plastic pollution, there were more enzymes. All over the world a whole new ecosystem is rising out of the puddles and bubbles and grains of sand. ..
The usual grifting doom-mongers willfully ignore the helpful reality:
The new 250 page “Consensus” Study (their words) by the National Academies of Science, Engineering and Medicine, is as out of date and useless as it sounds.
While it is scoring headlines, scaring us about accumulating plastics, it largely writes off the idea that microbes will evolve to degrade plastic, saying “measurable biodegradation (complete carbon utilization by microbes) in the environment has not been observed.” Which is one of those true but useless statements.
Some 40 year old theory says it won’t happen:
… Oberbeckmann and Labrenz (2020) argue, based upon Alexander’s (1975) paradigm on microbial metabolism of a substrate, that the very low bioavailability and relatively low concentration of plastics in the ocean together with their chemical stability render these molecules very unlikely candidates for biodegradation by marine microbes, despite their potential as an energy and carbon source.
But if plastics are so tiny and low in concentration, it’s a big “so what” — they are unlikely to be a problem. If they were concentrated in one place or collected in an organism, they could be bad, but then, of course, they also become fodder for microbes.
The bottom line: We don’t want to drown dolphins and trap turtles, but we shouldn’t demonize plastics either.
Reminder: The ocean plastic crisis is a fantasy:
The “garbage patch” is a fraudulent invention — a fantasy. All the famous photos of claimed to be of the Pacific garbage patch are really of harbors where storms have washed street trash into the bay.
A view of the worst area of the Pacific Garbage Patch