Scientists discover method to recycle PP using fungi

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The PP before (left) and after (right) being treated by fungi. Credit: University of Sydney.

University of Sydney scientists have discovered that fungi can be used to recycle polypropylene.

The Australian research looked at using the fungi Aspergillus terreus and Engyodontium album that are found in soil, after pre-treating the PP with UV light or heat, reduced the plastic by 21% over 30 days of incubation and by 25% to 27% over 90 days.

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While PP currently accounts for 28% of the world’s plastic waste, only 1% of it is currently recycled.

The researchers now want to investigate ways to improve the process.

University of Sydney School of Chemical and Molecular Engineering and Chief Circular Engineer at Circular Australia Professor Ali Abbas said: “Despite the massive scale of plastic production and consumption, there has been very little attention paid to plastics degradation under environmental conditions, and our understanding of how plastics can be degraded is limited.

“One big question our result has raised is—what are the naturally occurring conditions which can fast track the degradation of plastics? We seek to further explore the role of biological processes offered by fungi and other microorganisms.

“We need to support the development of disruptive recycling technologies that improve the circularity of plastics, especially those technologies that are driven by biological processes like in our study. It is important to note that our study did not yet carry out any optimisation of the experimental conditions, so there is plenty of room to further reduce this degradation time.”