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Polyurethane eating bacteria

Foam eating bacteria

As an innovation-first UK manufacturer and supplier of foam, we at eFoam make every effort to identify the newest innovations happening within our industry. Ultimately, it is these new developments that will soon – either directly or indirectly – have an effect on consumers. This is particularly the case with regards to environmental efforts. As an ethical and environmentally-conscious supplier, eFoam continues to look for new ways to place this at the forefront of all operations.

A fantastic new innovation that has recently caught our eye is the work of a group of German researchers who have identified a specialist strain of bacteria – known as Psuedomonas sp. TDA1. This group of bacteria have been found to break down some of the chemical compound building blocks of polyurethane, and were originally discovered in a landfill site of brittle plastic waste.

Polyurethane is composed of a lightweight and malleable polymer and is frequently made into a number of everyday products, including sponges, insulation, footwear, mattresses and sofas. However, due to its complex material make up, it can be extremely difficult to break down and destroy. This is because thermosetting polymers do not melt very easily. To combat this, we at eFoam ensure all our off-cuts are repurposed into new products and not sent to landfill.

The UK and a large number of countries have put specific guidelines and practises in place to reduce plastic – and specifically, polyurethane – waste. However, there are still a number of areas - particularly in the far east where production is done as efficiently as possible no matter the consequences – where these same guidelines for waste products are not in place. Therefore, these researchers are committed to finding additional ways in which microorganisms and bacteria can be used to degrade plastics. Most studies currently underway are specifically focusing on the use of fungi.

The researchers from Leipzig’s Helmholtz Centre for Environmental Research-UFZ have announced that the bacteria found is known as being ‘extremophilic’ and is recognised for being able to tolerate toxic and non-toxic organic compounds. As many polyurethanes produced in other parts of the world do not yet adhere to the same non-toxic standards, this innovation is fantastic for breaking down waste polyurethane that is chemically complex and toxic. More specifically, these bacteria are able to attack polyurethane bonds. After performing what is named as a ‘genomic analysis’, the researchers discovered that these bacteria metabolise the chemical compounds in polyurethane in order to sustain itself.

As explained by Dr Hermann Heipieper, one of the researchers working on the case, the bacteria have been discovered to use these polyurethane compounds as their primary source of carbon, nitrogen and energy. This means that the bacteria are very efficient in breaking down the most difficult of plastics, particularly those from other areas of the world where polyurethane recycling is not as well developed. According to the research centre, this discovery has led the participants to begin identifying the specific genes that ‘code’ for the bacteria’s ability to break down such materials.

At eFoam, we are continuously monitoring for the latest developments within the sector in order to protect and conserve the environment. We are proud that our own manufacturing processes use non-toxic chemicals and that any waste offcuts are repurposed into new products. Should you wish to learn more about our environmental practises, please read this blog.

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