Did you know plastic can only be recycled once?Did you know plastic can only be recycled once?Some 8 million tons of plastic is dumped into the world’s oceans each year, accumulating in ocean “garbage patches.” (Photo: Mohamed Abdulraheem/Shutterstock)

3 companies leading the fight against plastic bottles

SodaStream's new viral video shows how they take on the issue with a little humor and a lot of ingenuity.

Humanity's love affair with plastic water bottles has reached a breaking point. In the U.S. alone, about 50 billion of these bottles are used per year, but only about 23 percent of them are recycled. That means 38 billion water bottles – more than $1 billion worth of plastic – are wasted each year.

Factor in our over-capacity landfills and the fact that 10 percent of non-degradable plastic manufactured worldwide ends up in the ocean, and it doesn't take a genius to conclude that we've got a real problem here, Houston.

Which leads us to a question: What do we do about it? At least one company believes that the best way to combat this super-serious issue is with humor. And we can't argue there – this new video from SodaStream, the Israel-based at-home carbonated beverage maker, has us simultaneously roiling with laughter and vowing never to purchase bottled water again.

That's right, they went there. Public shaming, medieval dungeons, bulging Scandinavian muscles, a random mention of Matthew McConaughey – all in one bizarre 3-minute ad that's actually a sequel to an equally uproarious viral April Fools Day romp that "Game of Thrones" fans surely appreciated. Jokes aside, though, we admit it makes a solid point; being good to Mother Earth doesn't just mean throwing away the trash we accumulate. It means not creating it in the first place.

It's in that same spirit that Woosh, a water kiosk product line also developed in Israel, is introducing itself to the American conservation-conscious public. It's a one-stop bottle-sterilization and filling station that costs only pennies to use, and it's being tested on the campus of Sinclair Community College in Dayton, Ohio. Similar to SodaStream, Woosh's model involves both environmental activism and clever marketing; the kiosks not only save the consumer big bucks on one-time-use water bottles, they're also helping save the planet from the perils of plastic.

But it's too late! you lament. There are garbage patches and plastic islands and bottle beaches and methane mountains and ... what's that? Someone actually discovered a way to break down this harmful pollutant that everyone thought takes half a millennium to decompose?

Yes. Yes, they did. And it's called PlastiCure. It started with a group of young Israeli researchers at Ben Gurion University who began exploring synthetic biology tools that could be used for efficient plastic biodegradation. They concentrated their efforts on polyethylene terephthalatem (PET), a thermoplastic polymer resin used to make bottles, food containers and even clothing. And they came up with something amazing: a combination of genetic and protein engineering that breaks down PET polymers into two highly degradable monomers called ethylene glycol and terephthalic acid, then turning both monomers into carbon dioxide by altering metabolic pathways. The team presented its findings at the worldwide iGem conference in Boston last month.

Of course, none of these companies alone can reverse the impact of plastic overuse. They don't make time machines, after all. But they do make something very powerful: hope.

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