This is the most common plastic. The annual global production of polythene is approximately 80 million tonnes.


Jun Yang, Yu Yang, Wei-Min Wu, Jiao Zhao, and Lei Jiang
Evidence of Polyethylene Biodegradation by Bacterial Strains from the Guts of Plastic-Eating Waxworms
Environ. Sci. Technol., 2014, 48 (23), pp 13776–13784
DOI: 10.1021/es504038a

Polyethylene (PE) has been considered nonbiodegradable for decades. Although the biodegradation of PE by bacterial cultures has been occasionally described, valid evidence of PE biodegradation has remained limited in the literature. We found that waxworms, or Indian mealmoths (the larvae of Plodia interpunctella), were capable of chewing and eating PE films. Two bacterial strains capable of degrading PE were isolated from this worm’s gut, Enterobacter asburiae YT1 and Bacillus sp. YP1. Over a 28-day incubation period of the two strains on PE films, viable biofilms formed, and the PE films’ hydrophobicity decreased. Obvious damage, including pits and cavities (0.3–0.4 μm in depth), was observed on the surfaces of the PE films using scanning electron microscopy (SEM) and atomic force microscopy (AFM). The formation of carbonyl groups was verified using X-ray photoelectron spectroscopy (XPS) and microattenuated total reflectance/Fourier transform infrared (micro-ATR/FTIR) imaging microscope. Suspension cultures of YT1 and YP1 (108 cells/mL) were able to degrade approximately 6.1 ± 0.3% and 10.7 ± 0.2% of the PE films (100 mg), respectively, over a 60-day incubation period. The molecular weights of the residual PE films were lower, and the release of 12 water-soluble daughter products was also detected. The results demonstrated the presence of PE-degrading bacteria in the guts of waxworms and provided promising evidence for the biodegradation of PE in the environment.

Thanks to Fabiano of www.globalgarbage.org for keeping us well informed.

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2 thoughts on “Biodegradation of polyethylene

  1. We can eliminate, or substitute use of polyethylene, and not give up much, maybe some corporations lose some flow in production, but the industry has a responsibility to leave the least impact on the planet, and the people on it. Appreciate the information!

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