Decomposing plastic with bacteria

Energy & Sustainability Science
Decomposing plastic with bacteria

Science Fair project FOR THE WIN! According to a piece on Wired Science, a 16-year-old high school student, Daniel Burd, from Waterloo, Ontario, has figured out a way to quickly decompose plastic (like that used in shopping bags) by letting bacteria eat it. He presented his findings at the high school science fair.

The Record reports that Burd mixed landfill dirt with yeast and tap water, then added ground plastic and let it stew. The plastic indeed decomposed more quickly than it would in nature; after experimenting with different temperatures and configurations, Burd isolated the microbial munchers. One came from the bacterial genus Pseudomonas, and the other from the genus Sphingomonas.

I like how the piece ends:

Amazing stuff. I’ll try to get an interview with this young man who may have managed to solve one of the most intractable environmental dilemmas of our time. And I can’t help but wonder whether his high school already had its prom. If he doesn’t get to be king, there’s no justice in this world.

Teen Decomposes Plastic Bag in Three Months

8 thoughts on “Decomposing plastic with bacteria

  1. Katie says:

    WHY didn’t this boy win the Nobel prize?! I want to know who silenced this discovery… It’s a crime.

  2. Jon says:

    well, i wonder if anything current has been done. i remember reading about this last year when slashdot posted a story about it (

    On a related note, i’ve heard EM or Effective Microorganisms has been used to aid crude oil remediation, such as in the ocean when a tanker spills its guts. Supposedly (someone told me) it’s even eaten at the plastic on the boats that were applying it.

    Common Ground Relief used it in New Orleans after Katrina to fight off and suppress black mold in gutted houses. Their results were really good, better than bleach if their info was correct.

    It’s supposed to be good for other stuff too. And it would be pretty easy to stew up some of your own if you like so you don’t need to pay for a culture.

  3. Munch says:

    Can i get this project in a more detailed way like………….about the temp., amount of dirtfill, amount of yeast, water…….etc……….tweet @Munch_S and tell me plzzzzz

  4. students of 10th std from karaikal says:

    how many days it took to decompose

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Gareth Branwyn is a freelance writer and the former Editorial Director of Maker Media. He is the author or editor of over a dozen books on technology, DIY, and geek culture. He is currently a contributor to Boing Boing, Wink Books, and Wink Fun. His free weekly-ish maker tips newsletter can be found at

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