JoNova

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Plastics are not forever: Bugs already evolved 30,000 new plastic eating enzymes

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.

PET Plastic, Polyethylene-terephthalate

Polyethylene-terephthalate (PET)

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.

Enzymes that degrade plastics are found all over the world

Map od plastic degrading microbes

FIG 2 Plastic-degrading enzymes across the global microbiome. Depicted are 11,906 enzyme hits in the ocean and 18,119 in the soil data sets, obtained by constructing HMMs of known plastic-degrading enzymes and querying them across metagenomic sequencing data sets. The potential to degrade up to 10 and 9 different plastic types was observed in the respective ocean and soil fractions (Fig. S3A).

Mother Nature has a big toolshed of genes to play with:

With a library like this, is it any wonder life on Earth could find and amplify the right tools to process plastics?

For example, global ocean sampling revealed over 40 million mostly novel nonredundant genes from 35,000 species (35), whereas over 99% of the ∼160 million genes identified in global topsoil cannot be found in any previous microbial gene catalogue (34)

So there are 200 million genes to work with.

Bugs across globe are evolving to eat plastic, study finds

Damian Carrington, The Guardian, 15 Dec 2021

The explosion of plastic production in the past 70 years, from 2m tonnes to 380m tonnes a year, had given microbes time to evolve to deal with plastic, the researchers said. The study, published in the journal Microbial Ecology, started by compiling a dataset of 95 microbial enzymes already known to degrade plastic, often found in bacteria in rubbish dumps and similar places rife with plastic.

About 12,000 of the new enzymes were found in ocean samples, taken at 67 locations and at three different depths. The results showed consistently higher levels of degrading enzymes at deeper levels, matching the higher levels of plastic pollution known to exist at lower depths.

The soil samples were taken from 169 locations in 38 countries and 11 different habitats and contained 18,000 plastic-degrading enzymes. Soils are known to contain more plastics with phthalate additives than the oceans and the researchers found more enzymes that attack these chemicals in the land samples.

Nearly 60% of the new enzymes did not fit into any known enzyme classes, the scientists said, suggesting these molecules degrade plastics in ways that were previously unknown.

The not so apocalyptic plastic crisis

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:

Plastics with hydrolysable chemical backbones (e.g., PET and polyurethanes) may be more susceptible to enzymatic degradation and eventual biodegradation than those with carbon-carbon backbones (Amaral- Zettler, Zettler, and Mincer 2020), as illustrated by the discovery of PET-degrading bacteria isolated from a bottle recycling plant (Yoshida et al. 2016). However, 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.

Don’t throw rubbish in the ocean or toss hype in national news. It’s all litter.

 

Hat tip to Kip Hansen at Watts Up.

REFERENCES

Zrimec et al (2021) Plastic-Degrading Potential across the Global Microbiome Correlates with Recent Pollution Trends, ASM Journals mBio Vol. 12, No. 5 DOI: https://doi.org/10.1128/mBio.02155-21 

Reckoning with the U.S. Role in Global Ocean Plastic Waste, (2021) ISBN 978-0-309-45885-6 | DOI 10.17226/26132  https://www.nap.edu/download/26132

Image: PET Plastic Jynto

9.9 out of 10 based on 68 ratings

87 comments to Plastics are not forever: Bugs already evolved 30,000 new plastic eating enzymes

  • #
    Hanrahan

    Insomniacs of the world unite.

    In a similar vein the Gulf of Mexico has a lot of oil eating microflora.

    240

    • #
      another ian

      H

      For the disparagers

      IIRC one of those was found in the residue on a British motorcycle engine

      20

      • #

        No idea what publication that was but it would be hardly surprising if it was a British lab looking for the bugs. It’s not like they are confined to the gulf.

        According to Jo’s article all that oil should have been metabolised long ago.

        18

        • #
          another ian

          Gee! Eh?

          They never exported any?

          10

          • #

            who never? Bugs living in and off oil are old news.

            22

            • #
              another ian

              British motorbikes that leaked oil

              20

              • #

                Oh right. I’m sure that the British engines never did that.

                21

              • #
                another ian

                Gee Aye

                Those with experience in British Engines 101 will now have to re-evaluate anything that you have said with which we may have agreed.

                For electricals there is “The Lucas Jokebook”

                https://www.hemmings.com/stories/article/the-lucas-jokebook

                I don’t know of a single source compilation of the oil leaks. Silastic helped a lot.

                10

              • #
                Lucky

                Lucas reliability. Can verify those stories from personal experience. Lucas was well suited to British motorbikes which were infamous for oil leaks and rust.

                10

              • #
                sophocles

                British motorcycles over the first three decades after WW2 ran what can only be called a `total loss’ oil system they leaked so badly. I owned, ran and cursed enough of them.

                The Japanese motorcycles of the late 1960s onwards were oil tight. It was no wonder they became very popular

                20

              • #
                sophocles

                Lucky:

                does the phrase “Prince of Darkness” ring a bell?

                Lucas did have a sense of humour: they labelled the terminals for connecting a Lucas regulator to your motorcycles’ electrics
                F. A. D. E. (Field, Ammeter, Dynamo, Earth)

                … and they did.

                10

  • #
    Mike Smith

    Yet another crisis averted!

    131

    • #
      Leo G

      Yet another crisis averted

      On the other hand, there may now be a new crisis of bio-degrading electrical wire insulation and plastic wastewater tubing etc.

      190

      • #
        Lawrie

        That is a great observation Leo. Nature will always win in the end. Ask the Mayans. I guess this makes the Aborigines smart- they realised that nothing lasts so build nothing.

        121

  • #
    Don B

    OT, sorry, but this is important.

    “The head of Indianapolis-based insurance company OneAmerica said the death rate is up a stunning 40% from pre-pandemic levels among working-age people.

    ““We are seeing, right now, the highest death rates we have seen in the history of this business – not just at OneAmerica,” the company’s CEO Scott Davison said during an online news conference this week. “The data is consistent across every player in that business.””

    https://www.thecentersquare.com/indiana/indiana-life-insurance-ceo-says-deaths-are-up-40-among-people-ages-18-64/article_71473b12-6b1e-11ec-8641-5b2c06725e2c.html

    Dr. Robert Malone:

    “AT WORST, this report implies that the federal workplace vaccine mandates have driven what appear to be a true crime against humanity. Massive loss of life in (presumably) workers that have been forced to accept a toxic vaccine at higher frequency relative to the general population of Indiana.

    “FURTHERMORE, we have also been living through the most massive, globally coordinated propaganda and censorship campaign in the history of the human race. All major mass media and the social media technology companies have coordinated to stifle and suppress any discussion of the risks of the genetic vaccines AND/OR alternative early treatments.”

    https://rwmalonemd.substack.com/p/what-if-the-largest-experiment-on

    261

    • #
      Analitik

      It’s a shame there has been no unthreaded thread for the last few days. I jammed a comment about this same report into the inflation thread because of this.

      Not only does the source article discuss this “inexplicable” 12 sigma increase in the death rate but short and long term disability claims have also been noted as well as ICUs being filled with non-covid cases.

      All of this has occurred in the last half year in the USA. As always, the CEO still believes in the narrative and is talking about premium hikes for the unvaccinated and staff mandates.

      https://www.thecentersquare.com/indiana/indiana-life-insurance-ceo-says-deaths-are-up-40-among-people-ages-18-64/article_71473b12-6b1e-11ec-8641-5b2c06725e2c.html

      101

      • #
        Lucky

        I’d like to see the Australian stats. Virus infection is lower but vaxing rate about the same as US.
        Would the contrived explanation of ‘post-pandemic stress disorder’ still apply?
        Other locations with high vax rates could show the same.
        Does the ‘post-pandemic stress disorder’ explanation vary with the brand of vax?

        00

    • #
      William Astley

      Thanks Don & Analitik. This is not over. The Democrats are in trouble and are starting to fight about policy and leadership of the party. If the Democrats lose control of congress in 2022, there will be a number of young activist Republicans in congress who will of course investigate covid excess deaths, the covid vaccines, and the CDC/NIH efforts to hide Ivermectin.

      There must be a scientific explanation for the sudden increase in US deaths. … 40% increase above statistical normal … those dying in excess numbers appear to be regular working people with no serious health conditions.

      “Davison said the increase in deaths represents “huge, huge numbers,” and that’s it’s not elderly people who are dying, but “primarily working-age people 18 to 64” who are the employees of companies that have group life insurance plans through OneAmerica.

      “And what we saw just in third quarter, we’re seeing it continue into fourth quarter, is that death rates are up 40% over what they were pre-pandemic,” he said. Just to give you an idea of how bad that is, a three-sigma or a one-in-200-year catastrophe would be 10% increase over pre-pandemic,” he said. “So 40% is just unheard of. Davison was one of several business leaders who spoke during the virtual news conference on Dec. 30 that was organized by the Indiana Chamber of Commerce.”

      90

  • #
    Plain Jane

    I have an hons degree in Marine Botany from way back in the ’80s before all this global warming stuff started (thank goodness). One of the most basic things about ocean life is that it is restrained by the lack of something to grow on – or a soft bottom problem. And while it is all very sad that turtles eat plastic, and birds die of six pac strangulation, in general there is more life and abundance in an ocean full of floating stuff than there is a pristine one, and marine life does not care if it is a coconut or a plastic thong. Even in the 1980s at uni we knew that marine (or terrestial) organisms broke down absolutely everything, eventually.

    501

    • #
      Broadie

      Within the same narrative form our expert ‘scientists say

      Years of monitoring indicates that the northern Great Barrier Reef green turtle population is in decline.

      And in the same missive, ‘Ever seen 64,000 turtles at once?’

      Striking resemblance to the World Health stuff, the narrative is defied by what you see with your own eyes.

      120

    • #
      JB

      Yeah, but what are the breakdown products? I was once told by a guy at a testing lab that often the breakdown products from pesticide spraying, for instance, are worse than the source chemicals. I asked him to test for pesticides in my well water, because I live down the hill and across a road from an apple orchard, and I can hear the drone of their spraying equipment all summer long, and I know that they used to spray 2 neurotoxins. (Imidan and Captan, if I’ve got the spelling correct, is what they told me when I asked one time. Although, one of those chemicals has now been replaced by something else. So, an apple a day? Not for me!) Anyway, the testing-guy said he would have no idea what to test for, because the chemicals would break down in the environment. But, that was NO guarantee that they were less toxic. Often, just the opposite.

      Anyway, knowing the human race, this information will just prompt tons more ocean pollution. We’ll have a zillion PR firms now telling us morning, noon, and night how useful it is to fill the oceans with plastic. They’ll even figure out a way to market plastic-fed fish and make us all think it’s good for us.

      00

  • #
    Plain Jane

    I have got into some noisy arguments with my friends over the whole plastic in the ocean nonsense. Yes I know it is not nice when the big pretty animals die of plastic strangulation, and big flotillas of plastic do look unaesthetic, but overall abundance and diversity of life in the ocean is probably much better with lots of floating stuff to live on, under, and around. I dont listen to the MSM at all, but I can tell when the ABC are going to try to stop me using straws at Maccas when my friends think they are going to die from micro-plastic in the environment. Hard to tell someone who has not done any biochemistry that long chain carbon molecules are long chain carbon molecules and microbes dont care where they came from, and oil has been leaking out of geologic formations for hundreds of millions of years etc etc, and that indeed we are not all dooooomed. And that the world is an amazing place and life even more amazing, and humans claiming much of any effect on the planet in any way is hubris, and it is all about controlling each other.

    551

    • #
      KP

      The problem you failed to mention with plastics, or any organic molecule, is their mimicry of human biochemistry.

      You don’t want molecules that can enter a human enzymatic chain and bind to a working enzyme, stopping the process.

      While it is not possible to pin down exactly which molecules are doing what at this time, seeing we only look for cancer-causing ones, people shouldn’t believe we live a life better than our forefathers did.

      We have many more diseases add conditions in our metal and plastic age than humans did in the past, and our trillion-dollar pharmaceutical industry attests to that. The major problems these days didn’t used to exist in any noticeable numbers at all, from cancer & diabetes to sleepless nights and anxiety.

      Like our electricity-RF problems, even if they were investigated and found to be harmful, no-one will give up their iphone for a good might’s sleep!

      35

      • #
        Ted1

        Errrr… KP..

        60 years ago when I was young, the life expectancy for a male born in Australia was about 73 years.

        Today in the age of plastics it’s 83 years.

        It’s that extra 10 years, not plastics, that’s increasing cancer rates.

        How many lives are saved by devoting the resources that used to go into sterilising glass and rubber medical equipment into discardable plastic tubes and syringes?

        71

      • #
        PeterPetrum

        It has been reported that there is external evidence of breast cancer in the female form in Renaissance paintings, especially by Rubens.

        10

  • #
    Plain Jane

    It is fantastic that humans have been able to tap into petrochemicals underground and use them to make energy to make our modern world such a great place to live in and enjoy for humans. That petrochemicals were underground, we get a bit of it out, muck around with it for a while,bury it back in landfill and fertilize the atmosphere for plants, matters not at all in the scheme of things other than for human aesthetics. A natural great extinction event of vulcanism or meteor strike is going to wipe any evidence of the existence of humans off the planet at some time so why fret about it in the mean time. The value of environmentalism vs human values is just begging the question that environmentalism IS a human value.The self destruction of human happiness for the personal values of one set of humans vs the personal set of values of another set of humans is so immoral and such a sad waste. Like Jo says – a perfectly good civilisation is going to waste.

    441

  • #
    TdeF

    Plastic has been around for a very long time now. And modern plastics decay very quickly in sunlight. Some plastic bags fall apart before you can use them twice. It is very hard to make plastics which last years, as every manufacturer know. They become brittle and fall apart with age anyway, as every car owner knows. And there is no incentive for the manufacturers of plastic bags, cups, straws to make anything more than short term one use plastics. So it is not a long term problem.

    My favorite memory of the decomposition of oil was in the billions spent on the rapid physical removal of oil after the Exxon Valdez disaster. It was reported years later that the beaches which were not cleaned by man were cleared naturally in about the same time. And while the loss of marine life was great, it was only in a small area and numbers bounce back quickly with the loss of competition. Everything is in equilibrium, even CO2. The idea that we humans are a major force on the planet, beyond pond scum is ludicrous. But I guess there has never been a duck in space, so perhaps we are special. And likely the only life on the planet with an ego.

    471

    • #
      Sambar

      Remember the “Tory Canyon”. Only working from memory, but the first super tanker oil spill in the English Channel in the 1960s was going to decimate the area for ever.
      A few years after the event and fishing was back to normal with some species showing in greater numbers than before the accident.

      300

      • #
        czechlist

        I stood in a beautiful park with trees and lawn at ground zero Nagasaki in 1971. The marker stated that scientists predicted nothing would grow there for 75 years. I don’t believe that organisms “evolved” to dine on plastics; some always had that ability – we are just “discovering” it.
        We just don’t know what we arrogantly think we know.

        91

    • #
      Graeme No.3

      TdeF:
      I still remember grabbing a 4Litre plastic bottle of the window sill in the laboratory, and having my fingers go through the plastic. Fortunately it was only an aqueous solution of surface actives (i.e. detergent concentrate), but the next bottle contained (diluted) nitric acid. The other bottles were very carefully removed although most were OK. The window ledge was a convenient place for storing frequently used solutions.
      We never knew how long the bottle had been there just behind the ‘crinkle glass’ window exposed to afternoon sunlight but guessed it was around 18 months.

      150

      • #
        peter

        Graeme,
        You was lucky!
        In a previous job, I took a plastic 1-litre bottle of HF (concentrated Hydrofluoric acid) of a Lab shelf and the UV-degraded plastic crumpled in my hand. I washed the HF acid spillage off my hand immediately and continued my day’s work. Today there would be an immediate stop-work meeting, an incident report, fire & rescue called (audible alarms), half the Lab evacuated and probably even an ambulance (sirens blaring) called. HF is a very hazardous acid and people have died from a 1-litre spillage on themselves (in WA at an unofficial kitchen Lab in a domestic house. The victim dived into the household swimming pool to wash it off but still died some days later). Today, the university I have an association with have effectively banned the use of HF from campus as if it was the black plague – I laugh at them!

        You tell young people about this today and they don’t believe you.

        (No plastics were harmed in the telling of this story and all used plastics were disposed off in an environmentally responsible manner)

        70

        • #
          Graeme No.3

          Peter:
          you were very lucky. I worked with 35% HF for 5 years and was very cautious. Why 35% — well the (multinational) firm I was with then, banned 70% as it was an anaesthetic and you didn’t know if got on your skin. The result was (from someone in the States who suffered was 3 weeks of agony (even with morphine) and another 3 weeks before he could sleep well).
          I’ve had the skin off my shoulder from nitric (which I didn’t realise being 20 feet over an acid tank on a frame) a faceful of sulphuric (which I knew would happen and had precauions ready) and a handful of 75% phosphoric on several occasions (which just involved a quick move to the sink) but the one that scared me was 90% formic (twice) and I was left in no doubt why ants chose that as a weapon. Instant pain – don’t try it.
          And that was a firm interested in Health and Safety.

          40

          • #
            peter

            You have led a very acidic life Graeme. I’ve worked with most acids in Labs. Phosphoric was almost harmless but conc nitric would destroy skin even if washed off immediately – resulting in brown coloured skin nitrate. All acids can be painfully bad in any broken skin – cuts, abrasions etc. With HF, even on unbroken skin, it can penetrate the crevice between fingernail and skin and though washed off immediately result in finger pain that can last hours (personal experience). Note to all players: Every Lab working with mineral acids should have eye-wash stations on every bench and Calcium Gluconate gel if working with HF. With a HF spill don’t wait to get to a sink, wash immediately with the eye wash water onto the floor and apply Ca Gluconate gel. With a big spill of HF onto skin (say 1 litre), flood-washing is required, emergency transfer to hospital (tell hospital Ca Gluconate injections WILL be required) and you will need a week in intensive care – to survive. Graeme probably already knows all of this but there are small mining labs out there (WA?) with untrained people using HF to break down rock samples. I’ve inspected a large heavy industry in Sydney employing Turkish workers. Those with a working knowledge of English were made leading hands. An old domestic caravan outside the workshop building had a water hose and extension cable attached to work as a Lab. The Chilean chemist I met inside the caravan spoke NO ENGLISH! – True story.

            10

            • #

              Indeed we do have them. Nothing is stored on a window -that was as stupid 40 years ago as it is now.

              Everything segregated to be stored only with compatible chemicals in well labelled purpose built cabinets*.

              And avoid HF if you possibly can!

              *had to replace a purpose built corrosives cabinet because, you guessed it, it corroded.

              10

    • #
      Deano

      I find that sections of plastic items that come into contact with your hands tend to decay noticeably quicker and crumble away than the rest of the item. Not microbes I know, but likely the acid in your skin (or perhaps a combination?) that causes it.

      10

  • #
    Kalm Keith

    As a youngster I can remember the physical removal of human waste, yes sewerage, in black metal cans which were lifted from the toilet floor, carried to the dunny truck and placed there. The truck moved on.

    In the same era most beaches were crowded on summer weekends and people often ate there.

    Very little rubbish was left behind by the beach users, who obviously believed that you should leave the environment as you found it; clean.

    Now, in the year 2021 there’s a motorised tractor which sieves the sand to remove the tonnes of rubbish left behind by the current strain of pseudo environmentalists.

    On an international scale many countries don’t have the waste collection systems we have in Australia and their plastic is dumped in local waterways for transport to the oceans.

    We can use plastics, but we need to ensure that individuals and nations act more responsibly.

    220

    • #
      el+gordo

      Big rivers like the Yangtze; Indus; Yellow; Hai He; Ganges; Pearl; Amur; Mekong; and two in Africa, the Nile and the Niger, are primarily the main source of waste plastic which ends up in the oceans.

      China is working on a way to capture that waste and generate wealth.

      100

    • #
    • #
      KevJ

      Indeed.. That’s why there are still many lanes in old suburban areas, with the dunny backed up to the lane with a hatch. The “night cart” would come by and swap out the full pan with an empty one.. my grandmother’s toilet seemed so far away when you really needed it..😄

      Thanks KK.😀

      30

      • #
        Kalm Keith

        Those lanes are still evident in many parts of NovoCastria but thankfully by the time I came along they were redundant.
        My experience was based on holidays at Lake Macquarie and those blokes must have been strong.
        🙂

        10

  • #
    George McFly......I'm your density

    I always thought it was curious that people would state that plastics took hundred of years to degrade when they have only been in use for 115 years.

    Perhaps we don’t know everything.

    250

  • #
    TdeF

    And consider that it is all about cost. All plastics as hydrocarbons burn nicely as fuel or can be chemically transformed into fuel or even reconstituted as more plastic. But it is generally not done. Firstly burning plastics would produce CO2, which is now forbidden because CO2 is ‘pollution’. Then it is cheaper to make new plastics than to recycle old plastics, so cost trumps the environment.

    What this means is that for all the posturing, the Greens are the problem. Not prepared to burn hydro carbons or pay more for recycled plastic or more for fuel, they insist on paper bags which are simply a recycling of CO2 anyway.

    We went through this with cardboard and steel, both of which are now highly recycled. Up to 85% of all American steel is recycled through electric arc furnaces. So the Green councils separate the waste at every level at our expense until it comes to disposal where they crush it all into containers and send it to Chinese companies which dump it on the beaches of Asia and now Africa. Because it is cheaper.

    Being Green means not having to say sorry, as the invariably middle class virtue signalling skinflint Greens are the problem. Like all poseur socialists, it’s all about other people’s money.

    170

    • #
      Peter Fitzroy

      If only plastics did not contain softeners like formalin, then burning them would be an option

      413

      • #
        TdeF

        Another hydrocarbon. All would be destroyed in high temperature incineration. I was not suggesting throwing plastic bottles on the bbq.

        120

      • #
        Vlad the Impaler

        I do a lot of camping in the wilds of Wyoming, Utah, Colorado, and elsewhere. We usually take anything which is burnable, including any plastics or plastic bottles and such, and burn them in the campfire. Any glass, iron/steel, or aluminum, we can haul out with us, to a recycling facility, operated by our City.

        Many is the time we have camped someplace, and finding residue from previous campers, we pick up and haul away, or burn, what we find. My grandchildren now know the golden rule for being responsible outdoorsmen and outdoorswomen: leave your camp better than when you found it.

        My youngest grandson and I are working the last month of waterfowl season, and as listed in the Wyoming Game and Fish regulations, spent shotgun hulls are considered litter, and must be picked up. We have, to date, picked up some four dozen spent hulls of other hunters, as we have found them. We consider this to be just routine practice; I was so proud of him for downing his first Canada, on our third outing. Even before his prey had hit the ground, he had picked up and pocketed the two shells he used to get it.

        Please, do try to get out into the real world sometimes. We know it can be lonely, there in the cellar of your parents’ house, YouTwitFarce your only contact with the outside world. Just remember to put some pants on; and if you’re worried about the ‘bug’, just dose up on the Vit D, zinc, ivermectin, and hydroxychloroquine, or just quinine, and you’ll be fine.

        Regards,

        Vlad

        71

      • #
        Graeme#4

        But plastics ARE being burned Peter, in many countries. In fact, it’s the recommended method to reduce pollution- burn everything, including sewage, in high-temperature furnaces. The resulting small amount of ash is non-toxic and can be consigned to the local tip. I don’t understand why we don’t do this in Australia and cease expensive so-called “recycling” that’s just off-loading the pollution problem onto other countries.

        10

  • #
    John+R+Smith

    Perhaps nature said mmm, I would love some tasty plastic.
    And had one of her minions deliver.
    George Carlin covered this.
    She’s way smarter than us ya know.

    40

    • #
      Annie

      George Carlin certainly did! I don’t have the link but maybe someone else has? Where he ponders on Mother Nature needing someone to invent plastic!

      10

  • #
    Bruce

    Then, there’s the Big Nuke in the Sky.

    Ultra-violet radiation is pretty hard on most plastics; even the “UV rated” outdoor PVC pipes are not immortal.

    There is NO excuse for wantonly dumping plastics or other recyclables into the oceans. A certain large, rice-propelled nation to our North has form on this issue. Crickets.

    Nobody seems to be the least interested in the hundreds of kilometers of synthetic fishing line and nets that are abandoned to the deep each year.

    Back in the ’60s / 70s. it was a bit of a fashion to collect and artistically display the large, glass fish-net floats lost by Japanese trawler types. Their replacements were made from a suitable plastic and they did not break when dropped on the deck or such abuse. Not nearly as attractive in the bric-a-brac cabinet.

    The great “single-use” plastic shopping-bag scam springs to mind. Those bacs, like most things, could be used until they fell to pieces. Excellent for bagging assorted ripening fruits, especially mangoes, to keep the flying foxes from taste-testing almost-ripened fruit.

    The replacement, “reusable” bags all seem to be made in China; quelle surprise!! They usually fail when the handles tear off the bag itself..

    But the people who inflicted the caper on us went off smugly to “save” something or someone else, as is the way of the world.

    Then there is the interesting “money churn” with this “cash for containers” caper.

    90

    • #
      Hanrahan

      We have a beach at the river mouth, not as fashionable as The Strand but I can let the dog off leash so I visit. I noticed a small bit of plastic last time out, first for a long time.

      30

    • #
      Kalm Keith

      I still have a glass float that was washed up on the beach with some netting.

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    Philip

    Just as well they banned plastic straws in the western world then.

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    ElSabio

    Been there; done that. I remember a (black and white) TV drama back in the late 1960s or early 70s wherein a plastic-eating microbe did just that: ate all the plastic. One scene was a passenger jet in flight and the crew struggling to keep aloft as the plastic components of the cockpit disintegrated in their hands. It might have been an episode of Doctor Who, or a one-off play of the week, but it does show that playwrights back then knew a thing or two about the future….

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    Nothing and I mean zero in this piece supports this conclusion.

    The bottom line: We don’t want to drown dolphins and trap turtles, but we shouldn’t demonize plastics either.

    Using evolutionary stories to excuse human wastefulness is a novel approach but is completly a bunch of spin.

    Apart from this also being a dubious conclusion let me respin this statement with a different use of bold

    Sooner or later all plastic will be biodegradable.

    The assertion that evolution will eventually find a way, even if correct (which it isn’t), leaves out an inconvenient variable. Time. What if time is millions of years?

    Now… what about my comment “which it isn’t”. Here is another evolutionary story. If life can evolve to pretty much extract energy/resources from carbon bonds is any chemical/polymer why hasn’t it? There are a heap of them out there that have been waiting a long long time to be consumed. The coal industry thanks evolution for leaving it alone.

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      KP

      Ah, GA, welcome back from holidays, you were missed!

      Coal battles to get degraded because it is generally hard-packed in 3 dimensions and inaccessible underground, whereas biology occurs on a surface, preferable a film, in water or moist conditions, and aerobic if possible.

      Maybe if we ground coal down to the micron level where it floated and spread it on the ocean we would quickly find something that ate it.

      Hmm.. actually, they already do! Luckily for humanity bacteria and fungi using coal as food are not that dependent on it, or we wouldn’t have electricity at all! Korea Institute of Energy Research-

      “Among fungal strains reported for coal degradation are Phanerochaete chrysosporium, Colorius versicolor, Poria monticola and Aspergillus niger. Bacteria- Streptomyces setonii, Bacillus cereus, Bacillus pumilus & B subtilis.

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        it is generally hard-packed in 3 dimensions and inaccessible underground

        irrelevant as evolution will find a way.

        You know there are bugs living in far more extreme conditions eating much more rarefied energy sources.

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        Also, I notice, you had nothing to say to refute my first line.

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          KP

          “We don’t want to drown dolphins and trap turtles, but we shouldn’t demonize plastics either.”

          Well. we shouldn’t demonize plastic as a pollutant that doesn’t break down. As Jo found, microbes are breaking it down as we speak.

          The dolphins and turtles are just there as mediaspeak, Jo keeps tags on what the media say far more than I do. I had heard about microplastics in the food chain and I was concerned, but a few dolphins or turtles.. pfft…

          Until Jo put this up I didn’t know plastics were broken down by microbes, but in hindsight it is to be expected. Everything else with chemical energy is used.

          Bring back free supermarket plastic bags I say!

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      clarence.t

      https://www.technologyreview.com/2012/10/23/183157/coal-eating-microbes-might-create-vast-amounts-of-natural-gas/

      ” In recent decades, researchers have demonstrated that a large fraction of the natural gas found in the coal beds is produced by naturally occurring micro-organisms that feed on coal,”

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      Hanrahan

      The Townsville aquarium [Reef HQ] and JCU run a turtle hospital. They don’t get many with “floaters”, the condition where the animal can’t dive caused by plastic.

      The threats to turtles and dugong are prop strikes and there are speed limits through Hinchinbrook Channel for this reason. Also with turtles are the perennial threats: domestic animals and habitat destruction. There are few genuinely isolated beaches now and dogs dig up the eggs and the hatchlings are attracted to artificial lighting and not the moon glistening off the water.

      Popular breeding beaches should be fenced and any lighting screened so it doesn’t pollute the beach. If the Greenies demonstrating against Abbot Point were thinking they could at least have the nesting beach there protected. Maybe it has been done, I hope so anyway.

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    Philip

    I wonder if these microbes evolved in the Red Sea. I recall backpacking to Dahab, with the coral just off the shore line for easy access diving. The coral was strewn with plastic bags.

    The plentiful dive instructors who occupied the place had zero concern about the plastic – far more concerned with the copious European 18 – 24 year old bikini clad women on their sun and dive winter getaway.

    The ship I took up to Jordan threw its enormous bags of rubbish off the back. You could watch them bobbing into the distance as the sun set over the sea.

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      Forrest Gardener

      Tough choice that. Bikini clad women. Plastic bags. Bikini clad women. Plastic bags.

      Wow.She’s pretty. What were you saying?

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    SimonB

    Gotta love the natural environment, it works at it’s own speed and 24/7 media be damned! Sadly, it appears, never the twain shall meet. If only 21st century media was dominated by reporters, not opinion writers this truly could be the information age. All that electronic access and no actual education, what a travesty. Thanks for providing access for the information thirsty, Jo!

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    KP

    The first case of a potentially dangerous combination of Covid-19 and the flu has been discovered in a young, pregnant, unvaccinated woman in Israel.

    The hybrid condition was diagnosed at Rabin Medical Center in Petah Tikva earlier this week, when a woman went into labor.

    “She was diagnosed with the flu and coronavirus as soon as she arrived. Both tests came back positive, even after we checked again,” the head of the hospital’s gynecology department, Professor Arnon Vizhnitser said, as quoted by newspaper Yedioth Ahronoth, which was the first to report on the double infection case.

    He added that the patient had mild symptoms and that influenza and Covid are actually the same disease because both attack the upper respiratory tract. The woman was discharged from the hospital on Thursday.

    Meanwhile, the Israeli Center for Disease Control has recently reported a sharp increase in flu cases, prompting the Health Ministry to warn that the virus “can cause serious illness such as pneumonia, various respiratory tract infections, myocarditis and even death.”

    https://www.rt.com/news/544991-flu-covid-combination-woman/

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      Bruce

      I vaguely recall that back in the 1970’s, “URTI” (Upper Respiratory Tract Infection) was a fasionable ailment.

      I wonder what happened to all the research that went into that caper.

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    RoHa

    But if the bugs convert the plastic into CO2, the oceans will boil and we’ll all be doomed.

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    greggg

    It’s the plastics in the food chain that are the problem.

    ‘we compile data from research documenting plastic debris ingestion by marine fish, totaling 171,774 individuals of 555 species. Overall, 386 marine fish species have ingested plastic debris including 210 species of commercial importance. However, 148 species studied had no records of plastic consumption, suggesting that while this evolutionary trap is widespread, it is not yet universal. Across all studies that accounted for microplastics, the incidence rate of plastic ingested by fish was 26%. Over the last decade this incidence has doubled, increasing by 2.4 ± 0.4% per year.’

    https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/full/10.1111/gcb.15533

    How much endocrine disruption is this causing?

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    tom0mason

    I have said since the nonsense started about plastic straws, when you consider the vast enterprise that is nature, and that waste plastic is a highly energy fuel/food, then it would be stupid to say that nature would not find away to utilize plastics.
    Nature can already consume all the natural plastic materials (e.g. cellulose and cellulose type structures, natural rubbers, and material like shellac).

    Some wasp grubs can eat and digest plastics as can some mealworms.

    Pseudomonas breaks down the polyurethane using enzymes reports the BBC.

    Many of our clothes contain plastics like polyester, nylon, acrylic and polyamide. In fact most new fabrics are plastics. Now, every time these cloths are washed they shed millions of plastic microfibres. Threads so small they can drain out of our washing machines and pass out through the waste water system. Are these fine plastics polluting our waterways or merely feeding some innocuous bugs?

    I am sure that nature will supply all the enzymes, fungus, bacteria, yeasts, etc., required to breakdown all types of plastics — the problem is we don’t know how quickly these critters will take to become prevalent enough.
    Of note is that no research I am aware of says whether nanoplastic, microplasics or plastic microfibres are toxic or not.

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    Brian Hatch

    Near Canberra there is a small piece of road, bypassed nearly 40 years ago. The asphalt now has a moss/lichen stuff growing on parts. A plastic lens from a car indicator also has moss/lichen growing on it.

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    Casey

    We have a future problem… regardless of the green wowser movement against plastic (and the utter stupidity involved like hiding plastic cups inside card sleeves or putting paper straws in plastic wrapping)…

    Our society depends on all various sorts of plastics and “near-plastic” products – what do we do when microbes evolve to attack them?
    And they will; evolve and consume, it’s what life/nature does.

    Nothing is immune to time – remember the CD eating fungus? Not heard much about it lately (maybe not a newsy enough story, maybe it died out) but it happened, lots of CDs destroyed, that supposedly 100+ year lifespan item.

    Nature is about killing and consuming, f-ing, procreation, and moving dna up through time. Nothing will stand in its way, certainly not a walking monkey descendant with delusions of grandeur and false earth-caretaker-ship notions.

    I won’t miss humanity.

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    xvart

    nice but not so good, plastics have been the goto of industry because of there “permanence” and resistance to corrosion etc, bugs eating plastic will be very bad for areas where plastic is used for electrical isolation, there is a scifi story about this and it’s impact

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    Leo+Morgan

    Woods Hole did a global survey of the plastic in the oceans, including the so called Great Pacific Garbage Patch and it’s fellow patches, and found only 1% of the plastic they thought they’d find, according to Time Magazine’s “Hero of the Environment “ Michael Shellenberger, in his book “Apocalypse Never”.

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    […] Plastics are not forever: Bugs already evolved 30,000 new plastic eating enzymes […]

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