Following is the full transcript of senior researcher assistant Morgan Vague’s talk titled “The Bacterial Solution to Plastic Pollution” at TEDxMtHood conference.
Plastics. You know about them, you may not love them, but chances are you use them every single day. Enough plastic is thrown away each year to circle the globe four times.
By 2050, researchers estimate that there will be more plastic in the ocean than fish. In fact, there are two islands of floating plastic waste twice the size of Texas in our oceans right now.
Despite our best efforts, only 9% of all plastic we use winds up being recycled. And even worse, plastic is incredibly tough and durable and researchers estimate that it can take anywhere from 500 to 5,000 years to fully break down.
Now this plastic doesn’t just sit in our oceans and landfills like a harmless eyesore. No. Instead it leaches harmful chemical contaminants into our oceans, our soil, our food, our water, and into us.
SO HOW DID WE WIND UP WITH SO MUCH PLASTIC WASTE?
Well, it’s simple. Plastic is cheap, durable, adaptable, and it’s everywhere. If you look around you, you will find plastic in most things from this microphone to this projection screen. Plastic is everywhere.
But the good news is there’s something else that’s cheap, durable, adaptable and everywhere. And my research shows it may even be able to help us with our plastic pollution problem.
I’m talking about bacteria. Bacteria are microscopic living beings invisible to the naked eye that live everywhere, in all sorts of diverse and extreme environments, from the human gut, to soil, to skin, to vents in the ocean floor, reaching temperatures of 700 degrees Fahrenheit.