Turning plastic into food? Can’t come soon enough

Some would joke most food is already plastic, but sarcasm aside, this research could be the start of a great and cheap source of fuel to make plastics edible.


Two Austrian designers have teamed up with Utrecht University to develop an incubator dubbed the ‘Fungi Mutarium.’ It cultivates plastic-digesting fungi, which is edible.

Researchers at Yale University in 2012 discovered a rare variety of mushroom that could break down polyurethane, a type of plastic. What followed was a wave of research exploring how fungi can degrade plastic without retaining any of its toxicity.

Along came Katharina Unger, who thought: “What if this waste could be turned into food?” And with five trillion pieces of plastic clogging up the world’s oceans, there is no shortage of raw material.

It is actually quite a reasonable question to ask:  how do you turn plastics into food?  If it can be cracked commercially, this will take care of a waste stream we haven’t been too good at dealing with until now.

But the process isn’t as simple as it sounds. In order to be edible for the mushrooms, the plastic must first be put in an activation chamber where UV light sterilizes it.

The plastic is then put in the FU, or growth sphere, where it is placed in an oval egg-shaped pod made out of agar – a seaweed-based substitute for gelatin. If mixed with starch and sugar, agar can act as a nutrient base for the fungi.

Fungi sprouts covered in liquid nitrogen are then put into the FU, which over time digests the plastic. This takes a couple of months, but researchers are working on accelerating the process by optimizing growth conditions.

“They [the fungi] are found throughout the world and can be seen on a wide range of timbers and many other plant-based substrates virtually anywhere in Europe, Asia, the Americas and Australia. They digest toxic waste materials, and are also commonly eaten,” said Unger, as quoted by The Local.

Many a happy accident has happened in a lab when they were looking to achieve something else.

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As much at home writing editorials as being the subject of them, Cam has won awards, including the Canon Media Award for his work on the Len Brown/Bevan Chuang story. When he’s not creating the news, he tends to be in it, with protagonists using the courts, media and social media to deliver financial as well as death threats.

They say that news is something that someone, somewhere, wants kept quiet. Cam Slater doesn’t do quiet and, as a result, he is a polarising, controversial but highly effective journalist who takes no prisoners.

He is fearless in his pursuit of a story.

Love him or loathe him, you can’t ignore him.

To read Cam’s previous articles click on his name in blue.