"The bacteria can use these compounds as a sole source of carbon, nitrogen and energy," The Helmholtz Centre for Environmental Research-UFZ in Leipzig,"This finding represents an important step in being able to reuse hard-to-recycle PU products."
In 2015, polyurethane products alone accounted for 3.5 million tons of the plastics produced in Europe. Polyurethane is used in everything from refrigerators and buildings to footwear and furniture to numerous other applications that can leverage its lightweight, insulating and flexible properties.
Unfortunately, polyurethane is difficult and energy-intensive to recycle or destroy as most of these kinds of plastics are thermosetting polymers that do not melt when heated. The waste mostly ends up in landfills where it releases a number of toxic chemicals, some of which are carcinogenic.
The use of microorganisms like bacteria and fungi to break down oil-based plastics is an ongoing area of research. However, few studies have addressed biodegradation of polyurethanes like the current paper.
They made preliminary discoveries about the factors that help the microbe metabolize certain chemical compounds in plastic for energy. They also conducted other analyses and experiments to understand the bacterium's capabilities.
This particular strain is part of a group of bacteria that are well-known for their tolerance of toxic organic compounds and other forms of stress
Industrial Chemistry Open Access