A Fungus Could Be One Key to Solving Our Plastic Waste Crisis

iStock
iStock

An unusual strain of fungus found last year in a Pakistani garbage dump could one day provide a solution to our plastic waste woes. As Dezeen reports, the Aspergillus tubingensis fungus has the ability to break down the chemical bonds between plastic molecules in a matter of weeks rather than years.

The findings were presented in a 92-page State of the World’s Fungi report, published by London’s Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew [PDF]. The report cites recent studies showing that this particular fungus can help aid the disintegration of polyester polyurethane (PU)—a substance commonly used in refrigerator insulation, synthetic leather, and many other household products. The study, by Chinese and Pakistani researchers, revealed that A. tubingensis broke down the plastic in just two months.

Once the fungus attaches to a piece of plastic, it secretes enzymes that help the material degrade faster. There’s even a word for this fungi-based method of removing waste from the environment: mycoremediation. Fungi can also “feed” on radioactive waste, oil spills, and other toxic chemicals like nerve gas, Sky News reports. Mushrooms have even been used to create an eco-friendly faux leather. According to experts, 93 percent of fungal species are still unknown to science, so there may be other environmental uses for mushrooms that have yet to be discovered.

Of course, the fungi solution is only a stop-gap measure, as many experts have pointed out that plastic production is the real source of the problem. By some estimates, the amount of plastic that’s been created by humans is equivalent to 25,000 Empire State Buildings or 80 million blue whales. Only 9 percent of that waste has been recycled.

[h/t Dezeen]

Friday’s Best Amazon Deals Include Digital Projectors, Ugly Christmas Sweaters, and Speakers

Amazon
Amazon
As a recurring feature, our team combs the web and shares some amazing Amazon deals we’ve turned up. Here’s what caught our eye today, December 4. Mental Floss has affiliate relationships with certain retailers, including Amazon, and may receive a small percentage of any sale. But we only get commission on items you buy and don’t return, so we’re only happy if you’re happy. Good luck deal hunting!

Fun Fact: More Than 75 National Forests Will Let You Chop Down Your Own Christmas Tree

Want a holiday tree? Drop by your nearest national forest.
Want a holiday tree? Drop by your nearest national forest.
Artem Baliaikin, Pexels

While plenty of people celebrate the holiday season with a neat and tidy artificial Christmas tree, there’s nothing quite like having the smell of fresh evergreen fir needles littering your floor. But before you head to your nearest tree farm or Walmart, think about a national forest instead. More than 75 of them will let you chop your own tree. Best of all, it’s actually good for the forests.

The United States Forest Service encourages people to grab a holiday tree from their land because it means less competition for room and sunlight for the remaining trees and allows wildlife to flourish. All you have to do is find your nearest national forest at Recreation.gov and apply for a permit—usually $10 or so—to begin chopping. The Forest Service recommends selecting trees no larger than 12 to 15 feet in height, with a 6-inch trunk diameter. They usually ask that you select a tree roughly 200 feet away from roads or campgrounds and make sure you let someone know where you’re going in case you get lost.

Different forests have different species of trees and slightly different rules, so it’s best to check with the forest for their guidelines before you rev up the chainsaw. And no, tree traffickers, you can’t harvest trees for resale.

[h/t CNN]