No, it’s not the plot of a sci-fi or horror movie! Rather, the possibility that one day a bacteria could help us out of our ‘drowning in plastic’ crisis by eating the waste and turning it into something useful could become a reality.
A recent article in The Guardian shares the good news that there is a company, Carbios in France, using bacteria to turn plastic waste back into “two liquid chemicals called ethylene glycol and terephthalic acid, which can be separated out and turned into new plastic”. More good news - “Two years ago the company was recycling a few kilos of plastic in a lab; now it can do about 250kg a day. In 2025, it will open a much bigger facility near the border with Belgium, with the capacity to recycle more than 130 tonnes a day.”
The bad news is that the “enzyme recycling process is a series of biological and chemical reactions, and as they scale up, you’re reminded that nature is a ruthless accountant. If you track the various inputs required, and the carbon emissions, you find that cleaning the plastic, then heating and freezing it, comes with a major energy cost.”
There is still hope however a truly miraculous bacteria exists that with genetic engineering and perhaps being teamed up with other microbes/bacteria could turn plastic into some kind of harmless, organically decomposable compounds without significant energy inputs or resulting emissions.
For an in-depth overview of bacteria and plastic, check out the article.