|MadSci Network: General Biology|
Kate, Yes, there are certain types of bacteria (Pseudomonas is the name of one type) that can break-down some types of plastics. The process is called bioremediation. Plastics are made from petrolium based hydrocarbons. Bacteria , like all other living things need to eat in order to obtain nutrients and energy. The hydrocarbons in the plastic serve as food for the bacteria. The only problem is that sometimes this process is very slow, taking many years. There are some things we can do to speed the process up a little though. For example, some bacteria like oxygen, so if we add some they can eat faster and the plastic degrades at a better rate. One nice thing about using bacteria to help the environment is that they are often easy to grow in a laboratory, in very large numbers just by giving them a little food and water. We can then use them to help with environmental problems. But, sometimes the bacteria already live in the soil and are ready to go to work. I should caution you though. I think a "nappie" means a "diaper" (thats how we say it in America), if so there are good reasons not to put it in the ground near where people live or go to school, because there can be dangerous types of bacteria it them. So be careful! I don't know of other materials which work as well as plastics for strength, flexibility and the other charactorisics you mention. For this reason it is a good idea to recycle plastic materails and use non toxic methods of remediation, like bacteria, too keep landfills from over-flowing. Good luck!
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