Don’t Wear Your Retro Polyester Pantsuit into the Ecuadorian Rainforest (or a new player in the bioremediation of plastics)

Mindo Cloud Forest, Ecuador

Plastics are really cool. They keep you from having slippery glass shampoo bottles in the shower that can drop and break. They have allowed us to get rid of glass thermoses from student’s lunches. They are lightweight, making shipping and packaging of goods cheaper and lighter, and often, safer. The plastics industry, according to the Plastics Industry Trade Association Website, is the third largest manufacturing industry in the United States employing nearly 900 thousand workers (1). So there are many positives associated with the development, manufacture and use of plastics.

And, one more thing about plastics: They are durable. Perhaps too durable.

Plastics just won’t go away. We throw them away of course, but they cascade out of our landfills, onto our seashores, and into our oceans (2). Unfortunately approximately one-third of all plastic produced is single-use and only 15% of the plastic produced across the globe is recycled (3). This long life, single-use production, and lack of recycling combined with an increase in plastics production from 1.5 million tons in 1950 to 230 million tons in 2010 (4), makes plastic pollution a monumental problem.

Scientists have been working on creative ways to attack the plastics pollution problem. Continue reading

Can Mushrooms Save the World?

Last Tuesday, intrigued by a poster entitled “How Mushrooms Can Save the World”, I attended a talk by Paul Stamets—renowned author, conservationist, and noted expert on all things fungi. I must admit that I was skeptical. It seemed such a bold claim—could the humble mushroom really be the answer to so many problems? The poster promised that mushrooms could be used to filter water, regenerate soil, produce antimicrobials, and literally save the planet. Continue reading