A 17-year-old high school student in Waterloo, Ont. has found a way to break down plastic bags in a matter of months.
As jurisdictions across Canada take action to ban the use of landfill-clogging plastic bags, which can take up to 1,000 years to decompose, Daniel Burd may be on to something.
His discovery earned him the top prize of $10,000 at the 2008 Canada-wide Science Fair in Ottawa.
Burd's hypothesis was that if plastic bags do eventually break down, it should be possible to isolate and concentrate the micro-organism responsible for the decomposition — thereby speeding up the process.
He eventually isolated two types of bacteria (Sphingomonas and Pseudomonas) most effective at breaking down the polyethylene and combined them with some sodium acetate.
By incubating the solution at 37 C, he managed to degrade the plastic by 43 per cent in six weeks. He figures the solution would entirely break down plastic bags in a matter of three months.
Eventually, he envisions what he calls "recycling stations" for plastic bags, which would essentially act as large composters.