Sunday, July 06, 2008

Canadian Kid Solves Worldwide Problem

Seventeen year old Daniel Burd, of Waterloo, Ontario (Canada) doesn't care much for plastic grocery bags. Specifically, he doesn't like them when his mom sends him to do some cleaning job and he has to go to the cleaning cupboard where bags of plastic bags tumble onto his head from a shelf above the door.

Unlike most 17 year olds, Daniel did something about the bags other than grouse. His research informed him that about 500 billion plastic bags are made and disposed of each year around the world. While they are recycled into lots of furniture and other handy tools in some places, most of the bags end up in dumps and littering streets, parks and other places where people move about.

Sadly, the billions of plastic bags disposed of each year make their way into the oceans, where animals ingest them and die from various causes, including starvation and asphyxiation. The same fate awaits animals wh0 eat plastic bags that formerly had food in them in parks or forests.

Plastic bags take anywhere from 20 to 1000 years to break down in nature, including landfills where the breakdown time is longest because they are buried with no access to oxygen.

Daniel learned that bacteria can break down plastic bags. So he got some soil from a landfill (dump) and used a chemical that encourages bacterial growth on it. Long story short, he found eventually that two types of bacteria, Sphingomonas and Pseudomonas, worked best for breaking down the plastic.

Eventually he found that the two bacteria could break down 43 percent of the plastic in six weeks if the bacteria were incubated in a sodium acetate solution at human body temperature (that part was just a coincidence).

Daniel made a science project out of his work, then took it from science fair to science fair until he eventually won a Canada-wide science fair recently.

He says he envisions plastic recycling centres--essentially large scale composters--where a community's plastic bags or a city's bags can be broken down at once.

Daniel Burd will continue his research to speed up the process to make total breakdown faster in the future before taking it for patent and marketing his system.

Another great example of thinking outside the, bag.

Bill Allin
Turning It Around: Causes and Cures for Today's Epidemic Social Problems, a guidebook for parents and teachers who want to grow children who can think creatively and innovatively.
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