Eben Bayer: Are mushrooms the new plastic?
"Product designer Eben Bayer reveals his recipe for a new, fungus-based packaging material that protects fragile stuff like furniture, plasma screens -- and the environment. Eben Bayer is co-inventor of MycoBond, an organic (really -- it's based on mycelium, a living, growing organism) adhesive that turns agriwaste into a foam-like material for packaging and insulation."
Sawdust packing materials, strips of recycled paper, etc., at the destination can go into mulch/soil category, etc.
Well, even plastic bags are solved.
[Canadian] WCI student isolates microbe that lunches on plastic bags
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.
Now a Waterloo teenager has found a way to make plastic bags degrade faster -- in three months, he figures.
Daniel Burd's project won the top prize at the Canada-Wide Science Fair in Ottawa. He came back with a long list of awards, including a $10,000 prize, a $20,000 scholarship, and recognition that he has found a practical way to help the environment.
Daniel, a 16-year-old Grade 11 student at Waterloo Collegiate Institute, got the idea for his project from everyday life.
"Almost every week I have to do chores and when I open the closet door, I have this avalanche of plastic bags falling on top of me," he said. "One day, I got tired of it and I wanted to know what other people are doing with these plastic bags."
The answer: not much. So he decided to do something himself.
He knew plastic does eventually degrade, and figured microorganisms must be behind it. His goal was to isolate the microorganisms that can break down plastic -- not an easy task because they don't exist in high numbers in nature.
First, he ground plastic bags into a powder. Next, he used ordinary household chemicals, yeast and tap water to create a solution that would encourage microbe growth. To that, he added the plastic powder and dirt. Then the solution sat in a shaker at 30 degrees.
After three months of upping the concentration of plastic-eating microbes, Burd filtered out the remaining plastic powder and put his bacterial culture into three flasks with strips of plastic cut from grocery bags. As a control, he also added plastic to flasks containing boiled and therefore dead bacterial culture.
Six weeks later, he weighed the strips of plastic. The control strips were the same. But the ones that had been in the live bacterial culture weighed an average of 17 per cent less.
That wasn't good enough for Burd. To identify the bacteria in his culture, he let them grow on agar plates and found he had four types of microbes. He tested those on more plastic strips and found only the second was capable of significant plastic degradation.
Next, Burd tried mixing his most effective strain with the others. He found strains one and two together produced a 32 per cent weight loss in his plastic strips. His theory is strain one helps strain two reproduce.
Tests to identify the strains found strain two was Sphingomonas bacteria and the helper was Pseudomonas.
A researcher in Ireland has found Pseudomonas is capable of degrading polystyrene, but as far as Burd and his teacher Mark Menhennet know -- and they've looked -- Burd's research on polyethelene plastic bags is a first.
Next, Burd tested his strains' effectiveness at different temperatures, concentrations and with the addition of sodium acetate as a ready source of carbon to help bacteria grow.
At 37 degrees and optimal bacterial concentration, with a bit of sodium acetate thrown in, Burd achieved 43 per cent degradation within six weeks.
The plastic he fished out then was visibly clearer and more brittle, and Burd guesses after six more weeks, it would be gone. He hasn't tried that yet.
To see if his process would work on a larger scale, he tried it with five or six whole bags in a bucket with the bacterial culture. That worked too.
Industrial application should be easy, said Burd. "All you need is a fermenter . . . your growth medium, your microbes and your plastic bags."
The inputs are cheap, maintaining the required temperature takes little energy because microbes produce heat as they work, and the only outputs are water and tiny levels of carbon dioxide -- each microbe produces only 0.01 per cent of its own infinitesimal weight in carbon dioxide, said Burd.
"This is a huge, huge step forward . . . We're using nature to solve a man-made problem."
Burd would like to take his project further and see it be used. He plans to study science at university, but in the meantime he's busy with things such as student council, sports and music.
"Dan is definitely a talented student all around and is poised to be a leading scientist in our community," said Menhennet, who led the school's science fair team but says he only helped Burd with paperwork.
Other local students also did well at the national science fair.
Devin Howard of St. John's Kilmarnock School won a gold medal in life science and several scholarships.
Mackenzie Carter of St. John's Kilmarnock won bronze medals in the automotive and engineering categories.
Engineers Without Borders awarded Jeff Graansma of Forest Heights Collegiate a free trip to their national conference in January.
Zach Elgood of Courtland Avenue Public School got honourable mention in earth and environmental science.
As he says, perhaps best to go back to a form of glass as well given this pollutant in most plastics--at least current non-biodegradable ones:
"I say let's bring back glass containers. These are highly recyclable, and when melted down are absolutely sterilized even against the most vicious diseases like prions that cause CJD, commonly known as mad cow disease. The only drawback with glass is the extra energy required to recycle it. But doesn't that extra energy have a much lower price tag when compared to the health care costs induced by the effects of bisphenol-A?"
Hazardous Bisphenol-A Embedded
Deeply In Modern Life
The Far-Reaching Effects Of BPA Are Unknown
By Ted Twietmeyer
A recent article about the FDA reversing itself on the safety of bisphenol-A  echoes concerns I wrote about this chemical compound in December 2007 ("Lexan, Bisphenol-A and the Big Berky water filter"  )
Anyone who uses products that contact food or drink made with flexible plastic should give some thought to the bisphenol-A issue.
This includes all types of soda, soft and drink bottles, but there is much more to it. It just might be that bispenol-A might be among the silent pathogens in our environment, responsible for the increase in cancer cases.
Smoking has greatly decreased, but cancer has not. Science would logically indicate that in our environment must be either new carcinogens, or the public is increasingly exposed to more existing carcinogens.
What I had not considered in my article written in 2007 about Lexan and other plastic products was the impact that a bisphenol-A ban will have on numerous other plastic products.
Hospitals and doctor offices generate a staggering amount of medical waste every day all around the world.
Disposable plastics are a required medical evil in this era of endless communicable diseases.
Everywhere around you are flexible plastic products which can contain bisphenol-A. Consider the plastic wrap and foam trays used to package meat and vegetable trays in stores. Cold-cuts are packaged in direct contact with plastics. Chemicals with preservatives and salt are used to prolong shelf life. What is known about bisphenol-A leaching out of plastics into food consumed by millions? Does this also create complex carcinogens?
What about take-out food, such as Chinese? More and more Chinese food is packaged into flexible plastic containers instead of paper. Won-Ton soup is very hot when it's served in plastic take-out containers. Is it possible heat from soups and hot foods accelerate the leaching of bisphenol-A into food?
Take-home fish-fries are usually packaged Styrofoam containers. What effects does the heat from hot fish just removed from 400 degree hot oil have on the plastic? How much bisphenol-A is leached out into the food? Ever open a container and pick up a plastic scent? What does the hot oil that drips from the fish do to the plastic? It is well-known that heat accelerates chemical reactions - and with it the breakdown of plastic compounds.
Hot coffee has been served for decades in Styrofoam cups. Coffee is highly acidic and could rapidly leach bisphenol-A from the containers into the coffee. If this coffee and bisphenol-A creates a carcinogen, countless millions of coffee drinkers from drivers to office workers to construction workers who consume this everyday may be unknowingly shortening their lives.
Here are a few commonly medical products used daily in doctor's offices and/or hospitals - all made with flexible plastic:
1. IV bags. Everything from simple saline, morphine, anti-biotics, blood donor collection bags and many more all use flexible plastic bags. Only a few extremely powerful drugs which have a PH level that will react with plastic, such as the anti-biotic Methicillin must be packaged in glass IV bottles. Everything else is in plastic. The real question is - has any company or university tested for bisphenol-A leaching out of the plastic into the medicine?
2. IV tubing - including the end of the IV line itself which inserts into a vein in the patient. This tiny plastic flexible tube smaller than a regular pencil lead left in a patient's vein after an insertion needle is used to deposit it there. It can remain in the body in contact with the blood stream in a vein up to three days (or more for some institutional standards) before it must be removed.
3. Syringes are used to inject just about every drug there is. Inside the syringe are synthetic polymer seals for the piston.
4. Plastic stents are used to keep veins or arteries open. These can remain in the body for the life of the patient.
5. Respiratory apparatus - hoses, nasal cannulas, masks, etc... are made of flexible vinyl or other polymers and are used for administering oxygen.
6. Numerous throw-away, one-time-use medical devices such as pre-loaded incision staplers used in operating rooms during surgery.
7. Catheters and other tubing inserted into the body during treatment temporarily or permanent .
8. Lens implants for the human eye for curing cataracts. These must be flexible in order to focus light on the retina. It's unknown if lens implants contain bisphenol-A, but fortunately these do have a great track record in restoring eyesight.
9. Food bags use special esophageal tubes to feed patients who cannot swallow or are in comas. Tubing is inserted through the nose and down the esophagus into the stomach. These remain in place for long periods of time for some patients who cannot eat.
It simply comes down to one thing - if something is made of plastic and it's flexible, it might contain bisphenol-A. Are we facing a medical equivalent of "Don't ask, don't tell" with this issue?
Certainly there are other flexible plastic medical devices used in doctor's offices and hospitals. For medical applications, biomedical engineers must specify plastic products for manufacturing medical devices which only use FDA approved materials. These approved materials must withstand the salinity and various chemicals found in the human body. It is not known at this time which medical devices contain bisphenol-A.
The impact caused by the FDA removing bisphenol-A from plastic products will be difficult to completely implement with patient care products, if not impossible.
Only scientific testing will be able to prove whether detrimental effects are taking place. Scientific studies of the effect of cell phones on humans and animals in America all seemed to conclude there is little or no effect from microwaves on mammals. Yet in Europe test results concluded that tumors were formed. A connection has been found between the results of microwave radiation and who funds the studies. If you have doubt, consider how your microwave oven cooks meat.
How many decades passed until the serious health effects of smoking were revealed?
Logically the implication of bisphenol-A effects makes us ask the following questions:
Will the public ever be told about the effects of bisphenol-A on human beings?
Who will fund the numerous studies and tests required to find out?
Whether or not this is ever revealed, the safest thing is simply to limit personal exposure to flexible plastics containing any food or drugs.
I say let's bring back glass containers. These are highly recyclable, and when melted down are absolutely sterilized even against the most vicious diseases like prions that cause CJD, commonly known as mad cow disease. The only drawback with glass is the extra energy required to recycle it. But doesn't that extra energy have a much lower price tag when compared to the health care costs induced by the effects of bisphenol-A?
 - http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/