In the fight against climate change, one factor remains a consistent problem: society’s reliance on plastics. People continue to use plastics, despite knowing their harmful effect on the environment, and it seems unlikely that this will change any time soon. However, a newly developed type of fungus could provide a possible solution to reduce plastic pollution, and even contribute to solving other major crises in the process.
The Plastics Problem
Despite plenty of evidence that plastic is an environmental hazard, people worldwide seem to struggle to remove it from their daily lives. If anything, the amount of plastic used on a daily basis has been increasing over the past several years. Between 2004 and 2014, the global production of plastics grew from 225 million tons to 311 million tons. This trend has only continued through to today, as the world now makes and consumes about 600 billion pounds of plastic annually. With the market continuing to grow at an average rate of 5% yearly, it’s likely the plastics problem won’t be solved by reducing production. Instead, focusing on plastics disposal may be the best possible route.
As a potential solution to addressing plastic waste, several different teams of researchers across the globe have reached the same conclusion. These researchers have all found that certain fungus can be used to break down otherwise non-biodegradable plastics safely, preventing them from lasting for decades or longer as pollution. Normally, fungus and mold are regarded as negatives by the general public, and for good reason; it only takes 48 hours for mold to set in and the longer things remain wet the more likely they are to be destroyed. However, in this case, these fungi are actively able to break down plastics into environmentally-safe byproducts. This means that instead of leaving plastics to sit and cause a variety of problems in landfills for centuries, these mushrooms will break them down into a state that can be more easily and safely processed. It’s possible that in the future, these mushrooms can be used worldwide to manage harmful plastic waste.
Additionally, certain types of plastic-eating mushrooms may be able to address other major issues as well, including hunger worldwide. Since some of these mushrooms are able to take plastic and, using the energy from that plastic, grow into edible biomass, it’s possible that plastic-eating mushrooms could be a way to tackle global hunger while also reducing plastic waste. The technology is still in development and isn’t quite ready yet for widespread use, the potential remains for a future in which mushrooms are responsible for creating food from plastic waste.
Fungi And The Future
Plastic waste has continued to be a significant problem in tackling climate change and environmental health. However, thanks to several researchers and scientists worldwide, it’s likely we’ll see at least some application of mushroom-based solutions. While these mushrooms are able to break down plastics on smaller scales in labs, it remains to be seen whether they’ll be effective in long-term, widespread applications.