Micromidas: Important Shitty Little Germs
Plastics are one of the world's biggest pollution problems. Many plastics are practically indestructible and will languish in landfills practically forever. They could also bob about in continent-sized flotillas in the middle of the ocean known at the Pacific Garbage Patch, where the little granules will be mistaken by fish for sustenance and consumed, to the harm of the fish.
Another bad thing about plastic is that since it is mostly made from petroleum its use contributes to the ultimate shortage of a finite resource. Some biodegradable plastics are made from corn and soy but this is a short term answer. A tremendous surge in the manufacturing of such plastics would eventually, thanks to supply and demand, drive up the price of commodities that are needed for both human and animal nutrition. What substance could we make biodegradable plastic from, then? How about a substance that we have plenty of and that is generally considered useless. How about shit?
Ryan Smith of Micromidas does just that; he turns poop into plastic for a living.
"We take raw sewage from a waste water treatment plant and we convert it to biodegradable plastic,” he says. Smith says the plant is "just a series of tanks, nothing complicated or fancy about it. Nothing that is technically too difficult." That's because he gets bacteria to do the hard work for him, and that's the novelty of his product. Finding the bacteria and mixing them up into the right combination, however, is a different story.
Smith says they take poop and feed it to bacteria. "The bacteria store the organics as a bio-polymer ... little plastic granules, or inclusions, inside their bodies ... they are creating it." Just like when we eat sugar, and through a series of metabolic processes turn it into a fat, those little micro-buggers turn sewage into plastic in their bodies.
Then Micromidas uses a proprietary process that disrupts the cells and takes the plastic out. After they get it all cleaned up, the end product is a high-value, low-cost plastic resin ready to be sold off, and once disposed of it biodegrades in under eighteen months.
Possible final products currently being prototyped and tested could be foams, fibers, injection molds, and lots of other fancy words that mean plastic packaging that doesn't get anywhere near food.
"Something you don't eat with, but is a packaging material, and ecological beneficial," Smith says. This should alleviate the nightmares any of you may have had about wrapping the pastrami sandwich you're taking for lunch in plastic film made from the grogan your disgusting uncle Elmer dropped in your bathroom during his last visit. You remember, don't you? The stench was so bad that even your neighbors complained.