Way to Go, Scientific Inquiry

A teenage kid discovered how to decompose plastic with bacteria, and presented it at a science fair last month!  Bacteria eat almost everything else, so he set out to look for the ones that find plastic tasty. Here I was stuck in my two-months-ago mindset that all the plastic we make and use now is going to be sitting around long after we’re gone, piled up in landfills as vast cockroach playgrounds.  But this guy can make it all go away, like actually go away, not just get broken into tiny pieces, and leave behind just some CO2 and water.  This is also cool, because the kid is from Canada (won their national science fair with this thing), so now we have something else to associate our northern neighbors with, besides *insert your favorite Canada stereotype here*.  Through Wired, an article with details of the experiment.  No word on when this is going to be scaled up, though he’s using some of his prize money to look into patenting it and developing it further.  In the last article, his teacher makes a good point that, even though this research literally clears up all our problems with plastic disposal, it’s not a carte blanche to keep using the stuff, willy-nilly.  After all, it’s not just the disposal that’s a problem, it’s the oil and hazardous chemicals used in the production of it, too.

Next up, a group from the University of Leeds has invented a way to wash a load of laundry with a) a cup of water or less, and b) some plastic bits.  I’m guessing the secret is in the bits, which are of course proprietary.  The new kind of washing machine is going to be able to replace both wet and dry cleaning, and only uses about 2% of the energy of a washing machine today.  And there’s really no need to dry anything after.  They’ve set up a company, Xeros, and the first machines will be on sale in Britain next year, and they’re not projected to cost much more than a normal washer.  We’ll see if they’re still projecting that next year, but with the savings from dry cleaning, energy and water bills, and not having to buy a dryer, it’d have to be pretty pricey to be “too expensive”.

It’s comforting to know that somewhere out there, people are using science on their brilliant ideas, and coming up with totally cool, useful things.  Hard to get really depressed about this whole environmental crisis when you know that.

Until you read stuff like this again, anyway.  Gah.

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4 Responses to “Way to Go, Scientific Inquiry”


  1. 1 Katie June 10, 2008 at 12:08 am

    My favorite Canadian stereotype is eh?

    I’d be interested to see what those washers are all about, not that I would replace my couple year old front loader washer/dryer (just like I can’t replace my small SUV, but I can drive less).

    Excellent point about the issue of needing to use less plastic, not just create something to mitigate it.

  2. 2 polythenepam June 10, 2008 at 2:19 pm

    Nice site and thank you for the computer info – as for plastic — bah — I have been waging war on the filthy stuff for over a year now. Not all plastic -stupid plastic. One use plastic products are a dirty, expensive, possibly carcinogenic, profligate use of the worlds resources. I hate them…so last year decided I would boycott it all – plastic packaging, bags, bottles and stupid free coat hangers that snap before you get home. I started because I hate what plastic is doing to the environment as I find out more I worry what it is doing to me. So each month I veto a plastic/plastic packed product and substitute a better packaged, more sustainable, biodegradable sometimes, as needs must, home made options. If you want to know how go to http://www.plasticisrubbish.wordpress.com. for details.

  3. 3 Cameron June 20, 2008 at 2:22 pm

    Being a biologist, I’ll wait for the primary literature paper on the plastic digesting bugs to come out! They didn’t give me enough materials and methods in that article…..always got to be a skeptic in science!! Plus, you know you can’t trust those Canadians. Any country that doesn’t lock their doors, and doesn’t have as many personally owned guns, has to have something up their sleeves!!

  4. 4 virescent June 23, 2008 at 12:08 am

    When we did science fairs,the paper write-up was lame at best. Of course, my own efforts at the science fairs were pretty lame to begin with, so maybe that’s part of it- maybe we should haunt the Canadian Patent Office instead, to see his application?


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