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Scientists Have Accidentally Created a Mutant Enzyme That Eats Plastic Waste

In studying a microbe that evolved to eat plastic waste, scientists in Japan have accidentally created a mutant enzyme that consumes the plastic even better than the microbe, Science Alert reports. Scientists are now examining ways to speed up the consumption process.

A solution to the ever-growing plastics waste problem would be a welcome respite for both Earth and its inhabitants, as everything living is currently drowning — literally — under it. From humans to animals to sea salt, microscopic plastic particles are endangering the entire planet. In the seas alone, nearly 26 million tons of plastic are estimated to reach the ocean each year, dramatically increasing damage done to marine wildlife and our food sources.

Plastic pollution is also taking its toll on human and animal health, as both food and water are becoming increasingly contaminated with these toxic bits. According to the environmental advocacy group Ocean Conservancy, some plastic products persist for so long, they'll still be recognizable after 400 years. Plastic pollution is also accumulating on farmland — the total annual input of microplastics to European and North American farmlands is thought to be 63,000 to 430,000, and 44,000 to 300,000 tons respectively.

Even more alarming, 94 percent of U.S. tap water samples were found to contain plastic, meaning we’re literally drinking the waste we’re creating. Besides the obvious plastic throwaway waste in the form of bottles and food containers, the primary sources of “invisible” plastics are synthetic microfibers from synthetic clothing like fleece, acrylic and polyester. Microfibers from clothing are released during washing, to the tune of 1 million tons a year.

If this matters to you, don’t wait for microbes and mutant enzymes to consume what we throw out. You can easily become part of the solution on an individual level by avoiding plastic bags and refusing to purchase foods that come packaged in plastic (this is good for you, too, because that will also help you avoid processed foods, which come with a whole set of health problems of their own). Wash synthetic clothes less frequently. Avoid plastic straws, plastic bottles and tableware, and don’t use plastic to store leftovers.
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