Cows might be the new secret weapon against the plastic crisis according to a new study released in the Scientific Journal Frontiers on Friday, July 2nd. It concluded that plastics can be broken down by the enzymes that reside in a cow’s stomach.
And not just any plastic; PETs, PBATs, and PEFs, which are the hardest ones to break down. This is because the stomach of a cow is used to breaking down the polymer cutin layer in plants they digest.
For those unaware, this is the substance that makes some plants feel “waxy.” This could be a major breakthrough in ending the plastic crisis.
How Significant Is This Discovery?
It could be a major breakthrough, or it could also be nothing. In truth, it’s far too early to say if this will have any real impact, but the potential is there. And with cows as plentiful as they are, it could be huge.
One thing to keep in mind is how this information can be used.
Odds are you might have a mental image of a cow eating a plastic bag in your head, but that’s not what this report is suggesting. Instead, it’s looking at the specific enzyme within the stomach.
In the future, researchers hope to not only produce it but genetically engineer it. The end result would be an enzyme that can break down plastic faster and more efficiently than the original methods.
Why is Plastic So Hard to Breakdown?
Many plastic products are made to last. For instance, consider your smartphone. Plastic parts are used in the case and it would be a disaster if they began to deteriorate within a few weeks.
Instead, some plastic material is design to last longer and be more durable. This creates a problem for recycling centers.
Not only are these plastics harder to break down, but there’s also a lot of them. In fact, there are 7 main types of plastic that are in use. This might not sound like a lot, but when there are millions of products that use them in different combinations, it’s a nightmare.
For reference, it would take PETs, around 450 years to fully deteriorate. And sadly, as plastics break down, it becomes a microplastic, which is small enough to end up in the food we eat and the air we breathe.
That means the first plastics ever made still exist somewhere in the world today.
No Time to Waste
Time is not on our side.
Each year, humanity produces 380 million tonnes of plastic. That plastic then finds its way into our landfills, oceans, and even our digestive systems. As more plastic comes into existence, the problem only gets harder to solve.
While the solution is still being worked on, we need to improve our recycling system.
Currently, recycling these materials is the best way to prevent more plastic from being created. However, it’s fair to say that the United States recycling system just doesn’t work.
Thus, while we wait to see if cows or something else provide a solution, we need to do our part to minimize the amount of plastic being used.
Robert has been following and writing about environmental stories for years at GreenGeeks. He believes that highlighting environmentally friendly practices can help promote change in every household.