It's not your average science fair when the 16-year-old winner manages to solve a global waste crisis. But such was the case at last May's Canadian Science Fair In Waterloo, Ontario, where Daniel Burd, a high school student at Waterloo Collegiate Institute, presented his research on microorganisms that can rapidly biodegrade plastic.
There are TWO high school students who discovered plastic-consuming microorganisms. The first was Daniel Burd. The second was Tseng_I_Ching (last month), a high school student in Taiwan.
Daniel had a thought it seems even the most esteemed PhDs hadn't considered. Plastic, one of the most indestructible of manufactured materials, does in fact eventually decompose. It takes 1,000 years but decompose it does, which means there must be microorganisms out there to do the decomposing.
Could those microorganisms be bred to do the job faster?
hat was Daniel's question, and he put to the test with a very simple and clever process of immersing ground plastic in a yeast solution that encourages microbial growth, and then isolating the most productive organisms.
The preliminary results were encouraging, so he kept at it, selecting out the most effective strains and interbreeding them. After several weeks of tweaking and optimizing temperatures Burd was achieved a 43 percent degradation of plastic in six weeks, an almost inconceivable accomplishment.
With 500 billion plastic bags manufactured each year and a Pacific Ocean Garbage Patch that grows more expansive by the day, a low-cost and nontoxic method for degrading plastic is the stuff of environmentalists' dreams and, I would hazard a guess, a pretty good start-up company as well.