Saturday, May 24, 2008

Saving Earth from Plastic Bags: Be Careful What You Wish For

"WCI student isolates microbe that lunches on plastic bags"
The Record (May 22, 2008)

"Getting ordinary plastic bags to rot away like banana peels would be an environmental dream come true.

"After all, we produce 500 billion a year worldwide and they take up to 1,000 years to decompose. They take up space in landfills, litter our streets and parks, pollute the oceans and kill the animals that eat them."

This youngster, using a well-thought-out procedure, has found a sort of microbe that eats the material used in plastic bags.

It's good work, and I agree that plastic bags in landfills is an issue. This previously-unknown and previously-rare sort of microbe could rid the world's landfills of those dangerous sandwich bags.

Before someone starts breeding legions of the bag-biting bacteria, I hope someone takes a deep breath and thinks about unintended consequences.

In America, at least, quite a of food is stored in plastic bags before use. I don't think it's too wild a thought that, once released to save the Earth, these dumb bacteria wouldn't stay in the landfills and the oceans, and would find their way into the supermarkets and convenience stores.

Not a pretty picture.

And, not my own. I ran into the notion of bag-eating bugs in a science fiction story, decades ago. I think it was by Larry Niven.

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