Sewage sludge is a growing problem in the United States as we run out of solutions to deal with the copious amounts of landfill. Researchers from Texas A&M University proposed a method of using bacteria to produce bioplastics from the sludge.
The bacterium Zobellella denitrificans ZD1, found in mangroves, can consume sludge and wastewater to produce polyhydroxybutyrate. Polyhydroxybutyrate is a biopolymer that can be used as a substitute for petroleum-based plastics.
The process of using the bacterium can reduce the costs of producing bioplastics. Since the raw materials needed for the bacteria to produce the bioplastic is much cheaper than traditional methods and does not require extensive sterilization requirements, it can be a cheap way to produce sustainable plastics.
While multiple strains of bacteria can produce polyhydroxybutyrate, only a few can survive in the high-salts. Their research is unique in that it is testing the possibility of deriving polymers from glycerol, and further tested its ability to produce bioplastics in wastewater.
The researchers found that in high-strength synthetic wastewater and wastewater-activated sludge, the bacterium was still able to produce the biopolymer needed to produce bioplastics.