Bacteria That Eat Plastic Discovered

May 10, 2016

Unlocking Word Meanings

Read the following words/expressions found in today’s article. 

1. by-product / ˈbaɪˌprɒd əkt / (n.) – a product that was not originally intended to be produced by something
Example: Oxygen is just a by-product of the food-making process of plants.

2. durability / ˌdurəˈbɪləti / (n.) – ability to resist being destroyed or damaged
ExampleDurability is very important to consider when buying construction materials.

3. resistance / rɪˈzɪs təns / (n.) – the act or the ability to not be affected by something
Example: Stainless steel has resistance against rust.

4. deliberate / dɪˈlɪb əˌreɪt / (v.) – to carefully consider something
Example: The judges deliberated the case before giving their decision.

5. contrary / ˈkɒn trɛr i / (adj.) – opposite to something
ExampleContrary to earlier reports, the animal is not yet extinct.


Read the text below.
Scientists discovered a new bacteria species that can eat a common type of plastic.

A team of scientists from the Kyoto Institute of Technology and Keio University discovered the bacteria named Ideonella sakaiensis when they observed a plastic bottle recycling facility. The scientists collected samples of soil and wastewater from the facility where traces of the plastic Polyethylene terephthalate, also known as PET, can be found. They then discovered that the samples had bacteria that can break down PET and use it as food.

They were able to observe various bacteria that were releasing chemicals that break down PET. However, only the Ideonella species can consume the by-product from broken down PET. The bacteria can also further degrade the by-product into simpler elements like carbon, which the bacteria use to grow. It was also found that the bacteria can break down PET in only six weeks.

The study is a breakthrough, as it was the first time that PET-eating bacteria were observed. PET is known for its durability and its high resistance to being broken down by living organisms. Before the discovery of the bacteria, only some species of fungi were found to have the ability to degrade PET.

Right now, scientists are still deliberating if degrading PET using the bacteria is better than melting it to make new products. PET can be recycled into containers and even into clothing fiber because it has the same chemical composition as polymer, which is used for making clothes.

PET is also highly recommended for packaging food and beverages because it is safe, resistant to heat, and lightweight. In addition, it does not have any negative reactions with food or beverages. PET is also safe to reuse according to the US Food and Drug Authority, contrary to the misconception that reusing PET products is harmful.

Viewpoint Discussion

Enjoy a discussion with your tutor.  

Discussion A

·         Which is better in your opinion: to degrade PET with bacteria or to recycle it into new products? Why?
·         If you managed a PET-recycling facility, would you rather use it to make more plastic containers or to make clothing fiber? Why?

Discussion B

·         What community-based programs can be designed to address plastic waste problems?
·         How can the use of plastic be reduced? Give examples of alternative materials or products which can replace plastic.

May 10, 2016