Can white rot fungus reduce plastic pollution?

Student scientist aims to find out

Presentation High School junior Shloka Janapaty was honored recently with a BioGENEius award for her research into solving the problem of plastic in landfills. Shloka’s early experiments with white rot fungus show it can quickly degrade things like bread bags and packaging materials. (Judy Peterson/Bay Area News Group)

A San Jose high school student who is trying to solve the Earth’s plastic pollution problem says a common fungus may hold the key to breaking down plastic in landfills.

Presentation High School junior Shloka Janapaty has been conducting independent research projects since middle school and was one of 15 finalists invited to the International BioGENEius Challenge held earlier this month in Boston. Although she didn’t win the $7,500 grand prize, she was one of three students who received high honors and $1,000 prizes.

The Challenge was sponsored by the Washington, D.C.-based Biotechnology Institute to encourage student scientists to pursue solutions to some of the world’s most pressing problems.

Plastic pollution in landfills is such a problem, with scientists estimating it can take 500 years or longer for plastic to break down.

A report by Columbia University’s Earth Institute says Americans discarded 33.6 million tons of plastic in 2014, yet only 9.5 percent was recycled. Fifteen percent was burned for electricity or heat and most of the rest ended up in landfills, the report concluded.

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