Bacteria breaks down a type of plastic known as PET, commonly used in water bottles.
PHOTO: Justin Sullivan/Getty Images North America/Getty Images
Bacteria breaks down a type of plastic known as PET, commonly used in water bottles.

Story highlights

Japanese scientists discovered Ideonella sakaiensis can fully degrade PET plastic

Almost a third of all plastic packaging ends up in nature or clogging up infrastructure

(CNN) —  

Scientists in Japan have discovered a strain of bacteria that can eat plastic, a finding that might help solve the world’s fast-growing plastic pollution problem.

The species fully breaks down one of the most common kinds of plastic called Polyethylene terephthalate (PET). It’s the type often used to package bottled drinks, cosmetics and household cleaners.

Styrofoam-eating mealworms might help reduce plastic waste, study finds

The findings, published in the academic journal ‘Science’ on Friday, say that “Ideonella sakaiensis breaks down the plastic by using two enzymes to hydrolyze PET and a primary reaction intermediate, eventually yielding basic building blocks for growth.”

This could be really good news for the environment. Almost a third of all plastic packaging escapes collection systems and ends up in nature or clogging up infrastructure, the World Economic Forum (WEF) warned.

More plastic in the ocean than fish by 2050

The WEF report, based on analysis of 20 studies and interviews with 180 experts, also said only 14% of plastic packaging is collected for recycling and that there will be more plastic than fish calculated by weight in the world’s oceans by 2050.

Back in September, researchers also found that mealworms can live on a diet of styrofoam and other types of plastic.