Plastic-Eating Bacteria


Yuliya Zamkova

In March of 2016, scientists accidentally, outside a bottle recycling facility in Osaka, Japan, discovered Ideonella sakaiensis, a bacteria that could break down and consume plastic. Though it can only decompose a specific kind of plastic, PET (ethylene terephthalate), this fascinating discovery is a positive step towards reducing plastic pollution. PET is a type of plastic commonly used to make bottles, food packaging, detergent containers, and tennis balls. PET is Ideonella sakaiensis’s main source of energy. Unfortunately, the increased use of one-use plastic during COVID-19, such as masks, only increases our problems with plastic pollution. One of the biggest challenges with this bacteria is that the process of decomposing plastic is really slow. It takes about 6 weeks to degrade a “thumbnail sized piece of PET”(The Biology Notes), at 30°C.
Evolution stumps scientists, as it is what allows things time to grow into what they are today, but plastic has not had much time, not arriving into the world until 1950. Ideonella sakaiensis cannot eat the huge amounts of plastic produced fast enough, but this bacteria opens up new possibilities, building “industrial-scale facilities where enzymes chomp on piles of landfill-bound plastic, or even to spray them on the mountains of plastic that accumulate in the ocean or in rivers”(Forbes). Some improvements are in the process of developing, such as the ability to consume plastic in a shorter amount of time, but more are on their way, despite needing several more years.


Works Cited     Staff, Teknos. “Ideonella Sakaiensis: A Novel Method of Recycling Plastic.” Teknos,          Teknos, 9 June 2020,     Carpenter, Scott. “The Race to Develop Plastic-Eating Bacteria.” Forbes, Forbes          Magazine, 17 Mar. 2021,         -bacteria/?sh=5f573ffc7406.     Baniya, Sushmita, et al. “Ideonella Sakaiensis- Plastic Eating Bacteria – Bacteriology.” The          Biology Notes, 11 Aug. 2021,