Cow’s — The Solution to the Global Plastic Waste Disaster?
From a climate change standpoint, Cow’s have previously been getting a bad rep due to their green house gas, methane, ‘destroyer of the ozone layer’ farts. Beef production alone accounts for a quarter of all green house gas emissions globally.
But the cow’s reputation in the scientific community could be about to change — with thanks to new research that has found microbes in a cow’s stomach could help solve the huge plastic waste problem planet earth is facing.
“A huge microbial community lives in the rumen reticulum and is responsible for the digestion of food in the animals”
Researchers from Austria have suggested that the very same microbes that breakdown food in a cow’s rumen — one of the four comparments of its stomach — could breakdown different types of common plastics.
“A huge microbial community lives in the rumen reticulum and is responsible for the digestion of food in the animals,” said Dr Doris Ribitsch, of the University of Natural Resources and Life Sciences in Vienna, and co-researcher of the study, in a press statement.
The microbes found in the rumen can digest tough materials such as plant cellulose from grass and the cow’s food, and thus the researchers wanted to examine whether these microbes could breakdown polyesters in plastics too.
The researchers tested the effectiveness of the microbes on three common polyesters:
- Polyethelene terephthalate (PET) — A clear, strong and lightweight plastic that is widely used in packaging foods and beverages.
- Polybutylene adipate terephthalate (PBAT) — a biodegradeable thermoplastic copolyester that is used in compostable packaging.
- Polyethylene furanoate (PEF) — a 100% recyclable, bio-based polymer that is used as a greener alternative to PET
According to their results, published in the journal Frontiers in Bioengineering and Biotechnology, all three of the polyesters could successfully be broken down by the microbes in the cow’s rumen, with PEF and PBAT being broken down quicker than PET.
This new research highlights a possible way for these plastics to be broken down sustainably, without contributing to green house gas emissions.
“Due to the large amount of rumen that accumulates every day in slaughterhouses, upscaling would be easy to imagine." says Ribitsch, and therefore could provide a real solution.
It also provides a path to explore other microbial opportunities to breakdown plastics in an eco-friendly way, which has to date largely been under explored.
So with the discovery of more plastic-breaking enzymes, coupled with more financial investment into eco-recycling, we could save planet earth from a disaster we created.