Miranda Wang and Jeanny Yao were the winners in British Columbia of the 2012 Sanofi BioGENEius Challenge Canada. After a visit to a Vancouver waste station, Wang and Yao were blown away by the enormous amount of waste in plastic. Plastic is very hard to sort for recycling — all types have a similar density. Says Wang, “Plastics are useful, but the downside of this convenience is that plastics cause serious problems like the destruction of ecosystems.”
So Wang and Yao decided to see if there was a way to break them down … with bacteria! It’s a cool idea, but difficult. They made a proposal in grade 12: Find a bacteria from local river to metabolize phthalates. Phthalates are a component of plastic, but they’re not well bonded, so they easily pollute and are found in products like babies’ toys, cosmetics, food wraps. In fact, the EPA has classified them as a top-priority pollutant.