Imagine a life without any plastic around! No carry bags given in the market. No plastic containers to keep things. No plastic packaging of foods and drinks. No plastic anywhere! Life would have been so difficult if there was no plastic. Everywhere around us, we use plastic in one way or another. Every single person on earth is using plastic today. The use of plastics has increased a lot over the decades and this has become an environmental monster, degrading and deteriorating our beautiful nature!
Our dependence on plastic has increased a lot. Stopping the use of plastic completely is one solution to the over use of this environmental monster but this cannot be done because plastic has become a need now. The other way to decrease the environmental menace is to use biodegradable plastic. This is a better option but even that would take months to decompose. So, a lot of research was done and finally scientists found a way to decompose the plastic waste that would not take generations to decompose!
Mushrooms eating up plastic! Sounds crazy, isn’t it? How can a mushroom eat plastic and solve the problem of plastic waste on earth!
There is always a solution to everything and so even for the decomposition of plastic waste, there are smart and brilliant minds who discovered a mushroom which only eats plastic!
This is not the everyday mushroom which we eat. Austrian designer Katharina Unger together with Julia Kaisinger and Utrecht University in Netherlands researched and found a very useful fungus that could help to convert the plastic into an edible substance!
This useful fungi, scientific name Pestalotiopsis microspora, was first found in 2012 at the jungles of Ecuador by a group of students from Yale’s annual Rainforest Expedition and Laboratory. This fungus was found to survive only by eating the major component of plastic: Polyurethane. Adding to its surprising feature, it is active even in anaerobic environment as well!
The discovery of Pestalotiopsis microspora gave a new hope to the scientists and research was started to find a much better and efficient way to solve the problem of plastic waste throughout the world. Various scientists tried to figure out the solution but Unger was the one who succeeded in this.
Unger tried to convert fly larvae into edible product with the help of Fungi Mutarium. This successful conversion gave her a hope and she started to experiment with other fungus as well.
Unger and Kaisinger set up a mini laboratory to initiate their research. The two common fungi which is commonly consumed- Pleurotus ostreatus also called the oyster mushroom and Schizophyllum commune, a species which is considered as inedible in UK and US was used. The plastic, before feeding it to the fungi, is subjected to ultraviolet (UV) lights. Waste plastic is sterilized and then UV lights are passed through it which causes the molecules of plastic to move apart and break.
The decomposition of plastic using fungus is a part of Fungi Mutarium process. After breaking down of plastic, it is put into pods. These are small egg shaped growth areas and are made of a gelatinous substance called agar.
Finally, the plastic eating fungi is added to these pods in the incubator. Within weeks, the fungus starts its action and the agar pods starts getting covered by a fluffy mushroom like cover. After a period of time, these mushroom like pods are taken out. The plastic is gone and a jelly like substance come out of it.
This jelly like thing is completely free from toxic. The hazardous plastic is converted into an eco friendly edible product. It won’t harm and can be consumed. Unger herself has eaten it and proved it is harmless and non toxic. It can be flavoured and can be used as a new and innovative dish.
The Fungi Mutarium is a prototype. It is the initial achievement which is made in this field. Research is still going on to find better ways for solving the problem of plastic waste using this method. Search for alternatives is being done to find ways to make the decomposition of plastic faster.
In future, there are possibilities that great minds like Unger and Kaisinger will find much better fungi to advance this process of plastic eating mushroom. Maybe the Fungi Mutarium process would become a new way by which the future generations would produce food and at the same time find a solution to the worldwide problem of plastic waste!