This team of engineers, chemists, and biologists at Michigan Tech is turning plastic waste into an edible protein powder.

Source: WJMN Local 3/Youtube

The team’s leader, assistant professor of biological studies, Stephen Techtmann, noted two significant problems in the world right now. The world’s population continues to grow while hunger also rises. According to a UN report, almost 690 million people in the world population are hungry. Due to growing poverty and climate change, this number is expected to increase by nearly 10 million in the next year if nothing changes. This goes entirely against the UN’s goal to reach zero hunger by 2030.

One of the major causes of climate change is pollution, with plastic being a major concern. Over 79 percent of plastic ends up in landfills. Many places are taking steps to combat this problem, like California, which just became the first state to develop a plan against microplastics. But it won’t be enough, and more has to be done if we want to slow down the damage we are causing on the planet.

Techtmann and his team think they could solve both of these problems with their recycled protein powder. He hopes they can get this powder into communities that need it the most and where hunger is prevalent.

Techtmann knows how weird and unappetizing this sounds and assures that it’s not a protein powder filled with old plastic chunks. The team uses bacteria to transform the plastic into something edible. They feed the plastic oil-eating bacteria, which chews up the plastics and uses them as fuel to grow. Bacteria can grow very quickly when eating a chewed-up plastic diet, and the growing bacteria cells can contain about 55 percent protein. Once the plastic is consumed, it resembles a yeast-looking substance. The powder is mostly protein and is dried out to turn into an edible powder.

The project is called BioPROTEIN and can help eliminate the massive amount of plastic we put into oceans and landfills. Plastic is not biodegradable and often takes hundreds of years to break down. While recycling plastic is good, most of it doesn’t actually get recycled into a new product.

Source: Our Changing Climate/Youtube

While more research needs to be done, the next step is to create a small box system that can take plastic and put out protein powder. They hope to recover 100 grams of protein powder through this system. The team will also make the box solar-powered which will be able to create kilograms of protein powder for almost 28 days.

“Plastic takes, at a minimum, a decade to break down in the environment. We could convert them into microbial cells in about a day,” Techtmann says.

One of the team’s goals is to be able to send this powder or box system with military personnel when they go to areas that have a hunger issue. If all works out, they could take the box and transform plastic into food literally wherever they go. Sign this petition to fight against plastic pollution!

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