It sounds like something out of a sci-fi movie, but deep in the jungles of Ecuador, a mushroom grows that doesn’t need air or water to survive – all it needs is plastic! Researchers from Yale University discovered this magically mushroom that dines on polyurethane, a common type of plastic.
I have visions of explorers setting their equipment down on the ground, picking it up and it looking like a spatula that you left on a hot burner. (It probably didn’t happen that way but when Disney makes a movie about this discovery, I bet it will look something like that.)
This could mean a very cool new way of looking at the garbage problem we have. Both polyurethane and polystyrene foam are not biodegradable, but we use them to make just about everything: garden hoses, toys, waterbottles, everything you find in a dollar store. According to a Yale study, we produced 245 million tons of plastic in 2006 so those landfills just keep filling up.
Now, who knows if these mushrooms can grow in a Winnipeg dump or not. But, students Jonathan Russell and Pria Anand have written that the enzyme the fungus uses to decompose plastic has been isolated so they may be looking at a way to use the enzyme on it’s own too. Either way, it may mean the pair of shoes you toss in the trash today may not be waiting around for your grandkids!