Tag Archives: microbes

It’s NOT Magic; It’s Science!

Some of the fondest memories that I have of my childhood include the magic of the holidays. As a child believing that a mystical being would surprisingly arrive at your home to leave gifts and candy was amazing. I mean really, what could be better than finding an Easter basket filled with candy, or waking up to find money left under your pillow in exchange for a lost tooth, or the mother of them all, waking up on Christmas morning to find a room filled with toys and candy.

As an adult thinking back on those days I find it simply amazing that so many people were in on keeping that magic alive. Friends, family members, teachers, neighbors, stores, media and complete strangers were all part of building that magical, mystical time of our lives and we believed it no matter how inconsistent the stories were. We wanted to believe it because it was magical and simply awesome. But unfortunately we grow up and are eventually let in on the big secret of what happens behind the magical curtain. Oh sure, it’s devastating as a child to be told about the big lie, the big secret.

As a father myself, I have become all too familiar with what it takes to keep the holiday magic alive for my children and someday for my grandchildren. As an adult I have learned the difference between believing in magic and believing in scientific facts and data. This is probably one thing that led me to starting a company that is passionate and dedicated to providing fact based real environmental solutions for plastics and rubber.

In heading up such a company I have been amazed to learn that some adults have hung onto the belief that magic still exists! Being part of environmental company focused on solving the global plastic pollution problem I have seen and heard quite a lot of amazing, bizarre and flat out crazy ideas and beliefs. Over those past seven years. I have seen firsthand just how cutthroat so called “environmentalists” can be to others. There are a lot of opinions out there as to what the best approach is to solving our environmental problems, and there are still people out there that believe in magical solutions to our environmental problems. I have actually heard grown adults call the process of biodegradation; magical, make believe, and mystical. And although the microscopic world is magical to describe – it is not magic at all – its science.

This leads me to the point of this article, it is not magical thinking, voodoo, or other types of mystical conjuring or hopeful thinking that is going to solve our global environmental (specifically plastics) pollution problems. Its downright solid science! Science based on the realities of having shelf-stable products, our consuming habits, and factual assessments of the conditions and infrastructures currently handling our plastic waste. All that scientific data is then used to develop solid solutions for addressing plastic pollution and waste “TODAY”, not tomorrow, or sometime in the distant future!

Too many times we read articles or press releases by companies announcing some future plan to address the plastic waste that their products and product packaging are producing. They usually say some absurd comment that by 2020 or some very far out there timeline, that they will have a solution to address the waste that their products produce, or even worse they do nothing tangible and announce that they support the recycling of their product and packaging and yet the realities are that their product/packaging isn’t recycled. There are even others who promote personal opinions as fact or they make up magical, unrealistic and flat out ridiculous solutions that are not based on any scientific facts, and are hopeful at the very least.

What we need to solve plastic pollution is to stay focused on the realities and facts of where plastic waste is being disposed of; which are landfill environments. The facts are that over 90% of all plastics are disposed of in landfills. You may not like hearing that, but none the less, it is a fact and one that cannot be ignored (although some try really hard). Once we come to the realization of where plastics are being disposed of we can develop solutions that best fit these existing infrastructures. For example; here in the United States, plastics will end up predominately in landfill environments with a seriously distant second being that of a recycling environment and lastly some plastic are incinerated or becomes litter. There are no (zero, none, zippo, nada) industrial composting infrastructures that readily accepts and processes industrial compostable plastics. And, when you look at the science behind many compostable plastics they do not scientifically show to be a solution to plastic pollution.

Knowing this fact about where our plastic waste is being disposed of in it leaves us with our two existing infrastructures of landfills and recycling. Again, you may not like this reality but to ignore this fact would be ignorant and would prevent real solutions from being implemented that would actually make a difference.

Recycling basically takes care of itself, if the plastic material is recyclable and that item is placed in a recycle facility it will most likely get recycled. Keep in mind that placing plastics into the recycle bin does not make that plastic become recycled. Only specific types of plastics are recycled, these are based on the economics of recycling that specific type of plastic.

But what about the +90% of plastics being disposed of in a landfill environment? Did you know that landfills today are designed significantly different than they were 20 years ago? Modern landfills are designed to manage the gases that are created as a result of biodegradation. When carbon material (food, plastics, yard waste, plant debris, etc.) is disposed of in modern landfills the biodegradation process from microbes creates methane gas. Methane gas is also called natural gas and is flammable. Modern landfills collect and convert landfill gases to energy. Today, over 74% of municipal solid waste is disposed of in landfills that capture and convert landfill gas to green energy – and to top that off, it is the least expensive form of green energy available, cheaper than hydro, solar and wind.

This process of converting landfill gas to energy is already happening today, there is nothing you or I need to do to make this happen, except to just change the way we think about plastics. What if plastics could be designed to be recycled (when and where possible) and also biodegrade when disposed of in a landfill, where the gases generated from the biodegradation process would be collected and burned to create green energy? Did you know that nearly all of the states that make up the United States have landfill gas to energy included in their green energy portfolios? This is all happening today and all we have to do is be smarter about our plastics!

Some might call this magic, magical or even voodoo; but here at ENSO Plastics we call it Science – a fact of life or reality! Come check it out for yourselves. Let’s move away from believing in the magical or hopeful yet- to- be- created solutions for plastic pollution and focus on science, facts and data to start making a difference today.


Fungus Discovered in Rainforest Capable Of Eating Plastic Pollution

One of the biggest problems facing the earth, plastic pollution, could soon meet its match if students at Yale University are able to breed a recently discovered plastic-eating fungus on a large scale.

Plastic pollution, exemplified by the giant floating island of trash the size of Texas in the Pacific ocean, is highly detrimental to the world’s ecosystem because it breaks down extremely slow. In fact, according to the National Center for Biotechnology Information, plastic doesn’t actually biodegrade:

“Plastics do not biodegrade, although, under the influence of solar UV radiations, plastics do degrade and fragment into small particles, termed microplastics.”

This presents humans with a challenge that must soon be met, considering much of our plastic trash ends up in the ocean where it breaks down into toxic microplastics, winding up in sea life. Not only is this dangerous to the sea life, but it’s also dangerous to people because we end up consuming these very fish which we are poisoning with our trash.

Many groups and organizations have been formed to clean up plastic that ends up washing ashore on our beaches, but the vast majority of plastic pollution ends up in the ocean. The planet has a growing addiction to cheap and industrious plastic, increasing in use exponentially every year with no end in sight.

This is why the discovery of plastic-eating fungus is so exciting. According to Inhabitat,

On an expedition to the rainforest of Ecuador, students from Yale’s Department of Molecular Biophysics and Biochemistry discovered a previously unknown fungus that has a healthy appetite for polyurethane. According to Fast Company, the fungus is the first one that is known to survive on polyurethane alone, and it can do so in an anaerobic (oxygen-free) environment, which suggests that it could be used at the bottom of landfills.

The discovery was published in the scientific journal Applied and Environmental Microbiology. Researchers were also able to isolate the enzyme responsible for decomposing the plastic.

It isn’t exactly clear how this fungus will be implemented in bioremediation, but one can picture floating plastic islands covered in mushrooms which will eat the entire trash pile then sink into the ocean.

It’s also important to wean ourselves away from petroleum based plastics because they require many resources just to manufacture, and pollution doesn’t start or end with the trash in the gutter. Many other sustainable options are available which could used instead, like hemp based or other plant based plastics.

Original article by Nick Bernabe on 28 August, 2014 at 02:20 http://themindunleashed.org/2014/08/fungus-discovered-rainforest-capable-eating-plastic-pollution.html

Are Bioplastics Really as Biodegradable as You Think?

Starch from corn is used to create PLA plastic.

When you hear the word “bioplastics,” you might imagine a bottle or container that easily breaks down into soil and other natural matter soon after it’s tossed — but that’s not necessarily the case.

Bioplastics are made with ingredients from renewable sources, such as potatoes and corn starch (also called PLA plastics), rather than petroleum or natural gas, and therefore, you would expect them to be biodegradable. Surprisingly, this is not always true, and there are many drawbacks to bioplastics you may not be aware of.

First, bioplastics can’t be recycled with traditional polyethylene terephthalate (PET) plastics because they contaminate the PET plastic stream. Wouldn’t it be terrible if all the plastic you’ve so diligently placed in your recycle bin for the past month winds up in a landfill because some “bioplastic” got mixed up in it? And sorting the different plastics is an option, but that takes time, accuracy and a hefty financial commitment. Second, landfill environments rarely provide a sufficient amount of heat, light and oxygen necessary for bioplastic breakdown, so bioplastics that end up there don’t decompose and instead last for hundreds, or possibly thousands, of years.

Bioplastics that are marketed as being “biodegradable” can cause a lot of confusion. The misunderstanding lies in the area between what the material is capable of (the extent and rate at which it biodegrades) and what specific conditions must be present in order for it to do so. For example, a corn starch-based plastic certainly has elements that will break down, but it needs the application of extremely high heat for this to occur, something that likely won’t be present in a landfill, nor in your compost heap in the backyard. These plastics will have to be accepted by one of the few commercial composting facilities, where all the decomposition conditions can be controlled, in order for them to successfully biodegrade.

Traditional PET and PLA bottles could last for thousands of years in a landfill.

Other drawbacks to bioplastics include abnormalities from a manufacturing and distributing standpoint. PLA plastics just don’t “behave” quite the same way that traditional plastics do. For example, bottles, utensils and other objects made of PLA plastic can only resist heat up to 110 degrees Fahrenheit (with certain resins, possibly up to 200 degrees) before their strength is compromised and they begin to melt. Additionally, bioplastics generally have weaker oxygen barriers and decreased impact resistance. All these factors can negatively impact shelf life, ease of distribution and contact with hot foods and liquids.

It would seem as though consumers have to choose either PLA plastics, which will melt, reduce product shelf life, contaminate recycling and last for centuries in a landfill, or traditional PET plastics, which work great but will last for just as long. So what do you do?

An effective solution to this problem must take the needs of manufacturers and distributors, as well as realistic landfill conditions and the processes of recycling facilities, into consideration. ENSO Bottles manufactures plastic bottles that have been specifically designed to meet those challenges. During the plastic’s creation, an additive is included which inserts organic compounds into the polymer. The result is a plastic with the same properties as traditional PET plastic (with regards to strength, heat resistance and the oxygen barrier) that can be recycled right along with PET plastic, but can also decompose in a typical anaerobic landfill environment. What’s the key? Microbes.

Check with the recycling facility to see what it does and does not accept.

With those organic compounds added into the molecular structure of the plastic, ENSO Bottles become very attractive food sources to the microbes present in landfills, and the plastic is “eaten away,” in a sense. As the microbes seek out the nutrients provided in the ENSO additive, they break down all parts of the polymer chain, including the plastic, into non-harmful bio-gases and bio-mass in a process that typically lasts between one and five years — a far shorter timeframe than the potentially hundreds or thousands of years it takes a traditional PET bottle to decompose.

So the next time you start to toss a bioplastic water bottle or packaging into a trash bin, consider where it’s probably headed: a landfill, where it will likely never experience the ideal conditions it requires to biodegrade. Contact your local collection facility instead to learn whether or not it accepts that category of plastic (referred to as #7), and better yet, consider your alternatives, such as the biodegradable ENSO Bottles.

MICROBES: An Invisible Universe

microbesThe book titled MICROBES An Invisible Universe by Howard Gest was one of the most informative and interesting books I have read on the world of microbes. This book is 200 pages crammed full of detailed information about the history and the function of microorganisms, also known as microbes. The author, Dr. Howard Gest is Distinguished Professor Emeritus of Microbiology and Adjunct Professor of History and Philosophy of Science at Indiana University, Bloomington. Dr. Gest is widely recognized for his research on microbial physiology and metabolism.


The Ecology of microbes to one another and their surroundings is extraordinary with respect to the diversity of chemical and physical conditions that can be tolerated. Microbes thrive in extreme environments with regards to temperatures, high concentrations of salts and sugars, relative acidity, and with or without the presence of oxygen.


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