Cow bacteria have been found to devour certain kinds of plastic, including PET bottles that are used in food packaging, synthetic fabrics, and soda bottles. These microbes were uncovered in fluids taken from the cow’s rumen, which is the largest compartment in any ruminant animal’s stomach.
Over 8 billion tons of various forms of plastic have ended up on our planet since the 1950s, equal to a billion elephants. Single-use packaging materials, bottles, and wrappings are the most common uses and they have been disposed of indiscriminately both on land and oceans. A large quantity of microplastic particles is also floating in the atmosphere, harming our lungs, and gradually settling in places as far as the Arctic.
The Magnificent Natural Decomposing Cow Bacteria: Rumen
Ruminants rely on microorganisms to break down coarse vegetation in their stomach. The rumen acts like an incubator for these cow bacteria. The food gets either fermented or digested. In recent times, scientists have been trying to harness the properties of these microscopic organisms to break down different varieties of plastics.
Natural microbes have been found to reduce natural polyester, present in certain vegetables and fruit peels like apples and tomatoes. Scientists have deduced that certain groups of cow bacteria could break down the natural plastic in the animals’ stomachs.
Dr. Ribitsch of the Viennese University of Natural Resources and Life Sciences along with her colleagues acquired rumen liquid from an Austrian slaughterhouse. Around 100 liters of the rumen is normally produced in a cow’s stomach.
Dr. Ribitsch noted that this matter is dumped by the slaughterhouses. She added 3 categories of polyesters to the liquid containing cow bacteria in both powder and film form; PET, PBAT, and PEF. PET is used in packaging and textiles, PBAT is used for making compostable plastic bags. PEF is a bio-based material manufactured from reusable resources.
To their amazement, all the three varieties broke down when cow bacteria was added to them in the laboratory. But the next step would be to identify the cow bacteria that were working on the plastic and breaking them down. Studies suggest that a cocktail of cow bacteria was acting on the plastic and degrading the various types of plastics. Dr. Ribitsch noted that the search for better varieties of materials would always continue, one that would act as all-purpose recycling material.