How Good Are Cows at Digestion?
Researchers estimate that the world will have to contend with an overwhelming 710 million metric tons of plastic waste by 2040. Earlier this year, however, scientists in Austria discovered a glimmer of hope in a very surprising place.
They found that microbes in the stomachs of cows can break down certain plastics – such as those used in plastic bags, bottles, and food packaging – relatively easily. Notably, these microbes can break down plastics in a matter of hours, which is a significant improvement over the hundreds of years it normally takes for plastic to degrade on its own.
These microbes are found in the rumen, the largest compartment of a cow’s stomach. The researchers tested their effect on three kinds of plastic – commonly known as PET, PBAT and PEF.
Cows, microbes, and plastics:
- A cow's digestive system can break down all sorts of difficult-to-degrade food matter such as the polymer cutin, which is a plastic-like substance found in plants, including apple peels and berries.
- Plastics have been found in the most remote places on Earth. For example, there are an estimated 14 million metric tons of microplastics on the ocean floor.
- Last year, plastic was found in the gut of a small invertebrate on a remote island in Antarctica.
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