Plastic is damaging to the ecosystem and scientists have long strived to break it down. Recently it has been found that microbes could lend a helping hand as the latest edition comes from scientists in Austria, who have discovered a set of enzymes in the stomach fluid of cows that can break down common plastics used in textiles and packaging.
The latest discovery in Austria’s University of Natural Resources and Life Sciences, which researched the idea that a compartment of cow stomachs called the rumen could digest such plastics as part of their normal diet.
Over the years many studies have been conducted to demonstrate how cow bacteria could help eat away at our plastic pollution problem. Dr. Doris Ribitsch, of the University of Natural Resources and Life Science said “A huge microbial community lives in the rumen reticulum and is responsible for the digestion of food in the animals. So we suspected that some biological activities could also be used for polyester hydrolysis.”
A team collected rumen fluid from an Austrian slaughterhouse and incubated it with PET plastic, which is commonly used for textiles, soda bottles, food containers, and packaging of everything from shampoo to pharmaceuticals. The scientists also tested the fluid’s performance against a compostable plastic called PBAT and a bioplastic called PEF. All plastics were tested both in powder and film form.
In the conclusion, the scientists stated that the fluids were able to digest three types of plastics and labeled this technique as under-explored. However, scientists plan to conduct further research in the area as this process has only been conducted in the lab so far.