COLM O'REGAN: There I was thinking I was as sustainable as Bear Grylls on an island with only some lice and his own piss for company

The scientists discovered it by accident: An enzyme that eats plastic. Imagine discovering something that incredible by accident? I’ve never discovered anything by accident. At least not by myself.

 

As part of a family, however, I was witness to a landmark discovery in about 1986. We found that the wick adjuster knob on a Para-glo paraffin oil heater perfectly fitted the channel-changing slot on our 12-inch Sanyo black-and-white television.

The original knob had broken off and been mislaid and we had been using a small pliers to change the channel. (The 1980s, man; what a hell of a time to be alive.) But no more pliers.

It was as smooth as you like. As long as you didn’t need to also regulate the heat at the same time on the Para-glo. But who needs to change channel and the temperature of a room at the same time? It wasn’t Versailles. We didn’t need that kind of luxury.

It wasn’t as coincidental for the scientists who discovered the plastic-eating enzyme. They weren’t just on a tea-break and someone noticed their Capri-sun wrapper disappearing. The scientists had been looking at bacteria from a Japanese landfill that had evolved by itself to eat plastic.

Trust the Japanese to have bacteria like this. No wonder their society is so advanced, when even their bacteria are innovative.

I glare at a nearby Irish bacterium, sitting around doing nothing. The scientists manipulated the enzyme in the bacteria to find out how it worked and the manipulation made it work faster. That was their “para-glow knob in a telly” moment.

I hope they put the enzyme out to work soon. Because we’re screwed with the plastic and our behaviour is mostly bad. And the worst of it is, some of us who claim to be a smidge green have been acting the maggot all along. And by some of us, I mean me.

I saw yet another “things you can’t put in the recycling bin” article during the week. “What is the matter with people?” I said to myself “Why can’t they recycle properly? And then I read the article and realise I was “people”.

All this time I’ve been putting stuff into the green bin and letting the Chinese sort it out. Not icky stuff but the wrong stuff. Plastics bags, bits of tinfoil, bits of plastic that could loosely be described as “the yoke off the thing”.

The yoghurt cartons could have been drier, there was a pizza box or two that could have been less pizza-y. There I was thinking I was as sustainable as Bear Grylls on an island with only some lice and his own piss for company.

I don’t know what I thought the Chinese were going to do with the stuff. As if their recycling industry was a gently pastoral bric-a-brac area where people had the time to make origami swans out of tin-foil and repurpose the yoke off the thing as a small trough for hamsters. But the Chinese were thinking: “who does this gobshite think he’s fooling with this bit of an Ikea spare part?”

Well the Chinese got fed up with our rubbish and our recycling companies are shouting about it now.

The nation’s frozen chicken wrappers are coming home from China to roost. We’ll have to sort them and use less of them and cross our fingers that a load of Japanese enzymes will eat the rest or one of our own enzymes will get off its arse (or our one) and do a bit of digesting.

I’ve copped on and considered the rubbish a bit more carefully before green binning it. There’s a list and I’m sticking to it. You can see it too at recyclinglistireland.ie. And lists are recyclable unless you write them on the back of a receipt.

In the meantime, does anyone have any use for a Para-glo wick-knob? It’s very versatile. But it’s not on the list.

 


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