Dmytro Solomianyuk from Lviv took 3rd place at the MOSTRATEC-2019 competition in Brazil

The MOSTRATEC-2019 competition, held in Brazil, featured 400 projects. Dmytro Solomianyuk, a Lviv resident, participated in the Ecology category, in which 60 competitors competed. “The defense against the jury lasted three hours,” – Dmytro says. – Nine hours were spent at the exhibition, during which anyone could come and ask about my project. What struck me most was the huge number of children. They came with their friends, parents, teachers, asked many questions. It was especially interesting for them to ask about the development of science abroad. One day a guy with a very similar name came up to me and told me that his grandmother was from Ukraine. It was very nice.

– How do you propose to deal with plastic waste?

– It’s very simple. The forces of nature available to us can help combat environmental pollution. These are fungi and bacteria. There are, for example, bacteria that break down plastic into elements and absorb it through special protein. And I had the idea to create a shell for these bacteria. We put the bacteria in a special capsule and spread it in the trash. There they gradually become accustomed and begin to absorb plastic.

– There are various types of plastic in landfills. Can your technology only get rid of polyethylene?

– In fact, there is a considerable list of bacteria and fungi that can feed on different types of plastic. But I decided to start my experiment on the bacterium Ideonella sakaiensis, which scientists discovered only in 2016. It feeds on PET plastic, that is, its main food is plastic bottles. If I can experiment with this bacterium, we will gradually be able to spray others that will absorb different types of plastic.

– And why put bacteria in capsules? Why can’t they just be sprayed?

– Imagine that in a hundred years, people will live on Mars, as Ilon Musk says. To get there, you need a ship. There will be water, food, air and other items needed to adapt to the new planet. The bacterial capsule is like a spaceship for us with everything we need to get accustomed to the new climatic conditions. The capsule gives the bacteria time to adapt, in addition, it is a good means of transportation and distribution. For example, due to the material from which it is made, the capsule can float in water. If it is not destroyed in salt water, we will be able to use it in the ocean on the now-famous plastic island worldwide.

By the way, in Brazil I met a guy who works with bacteria that absorb oil. And he asked me for permission to use my capsule idea for his experiments. I agreed. It was really nice that this technology could serve anyone else.

– How expensive is it to put into practice what you have to offer?

– I don’t think technology is too expensive. In addition, the bacteria can not only be bought but also found. When you buy you get a modified bacterium grown in the laboratory, essentially an improved version of the natural. One bottle, containing several thousand of these bacteria, costs about two and a half thousand dollars. But you can also save. For example, a friend of mine went to a big dump in Los Angeles and found the right bacterium there. Its performance is not as high as that of the modified, but also a decent option.

The capsule can be made from any kind of waste, giving it any shape. For example, for a competition, I made a candy capsule using candy wrappers, so some jury thought it was really candy.

Then you need to make a thick substance in which the bacteria are placed. For this, I take powdered plastic mixed with a special bacterial broth that is quite inexpensive. By the way, in this broth bacteria can be propagated. Then they are placed in a capsule and with the help of special machines are distributed in the trash.

The most expensive technology is the capsule-making mechanism. Now I only have a model that I specifically adapted for a trip to Brazil. During the competition, no heating elements could be used, so I could not sew the capsules. This requires special soldering clips since the capsules require spot sealing.

But it is easier to use machines with which capsules can be distributed in landfills. You can use what we already have in everyday life. For example, sanding machines on the roads can handle the spread of capsules perfectly. Drones, small planes and snow guns are also suitable.

In Ukraine, such a bacterium is likely to be used seasonally, because it does not like sharp temperature drops. In countries with milder climates, it will be able to live and reproduce in landfills all year long, without any evaporation threatening it, because it is a natural environment for it. However, I have another problem. That’s when you hear the word “bacteria”, what associations do you have?

– Not very pleasant.

– And almost all people think so. Most of those who learn about my technology are scared. Therefore, if you start implementing it without a proper information campaign, people may start to panic. To avoid this, I have to convey to the general public that this bacterium does not carry any threat to humans, it feeds solely on plastic.

In my estimation, under ideal conditions, one bacterium eats two millimeters of plastic in six to ten weeks. It’s fast and slow at the same time. Just think – every year, humanity produces 300 million tons of plastic. And in a thousand years, this plastic will not decompose, it will turn into microplastic – small particles, like sand. They will be in the air, they will be consumed by fish, pets, they will be in water, land, vegetables, fruits. And then everything will be found in human organisms. This is a disaster!

So in my opinion, let it be slow, but you should start getting rid of plastic. In order for my project to come to life, there must be strong communication between developers, authorities, the environmental community and people. But one bacteria won’t help. I think it is necessary to reduce the use of plastic in everyday life. For example, when shopping, you should not bring a backpack or a reusable cloth bag with you. You can drink juice in a cafe without a plastic tube. At first glance, the little things, but balls, tubes and bottles – this is the main thing, than crowded landfills.

Studies of recent years show the threat to the environment and human health of particles of microplastics – the products of decomposition of packages, bottles, packaging, including the so-called biodegradable plastic. Microplasty particles can damage the internal organs (intestines, liver), penetrate into the bloodstream and lymphatic system. Many components of the plastic adversely affect the endocrine system, provoking the formation of blood clots. Once in the body, the microplastics releases dangerous chemicals: pesticides, bisphenol A (BPA), which destroy the hormonal background, stop the growth of cells.

The magnitude of the spread of microplasty is indicated by the following figures: 9 and a half million tons of microplastics per year goes to the oceans, and 85% of drinking water worldwide is found in microplastics. It is found in fish (both marine and river), earthworms, packaged sea salt, beer. At the same time, the World Health Organization still does not believe that microplastics in drinking water pose a health threat.

– Dmytro, how it turned out that you decided to tackle such a serious problem?

– He was both an excellent and good-natured student at school, but he was always interested in many issues. I remember being 13 years old when I learned about competitions run by the Little Academy of Sciences, institutes. Then he thought, “What am I worse than other children who take part in this?” And began to invent their own projects. Something worked out, something failed, but I understood one thing: one cannot lose enthusiasm.

Then he joined the Lviv Technological Lyceum. There I met two special people for me – Koldun Victor Petrovich and Postrilony Vasil Mikhailovich, who made a huge impact on my further activity.

Subsequently, when he was in the US and Brazil, he had the opportunity to see how many institutions there that assist young scientists with grants, mentoring, and bases for project implementation. For me, such a base was the Little Academy of Sciences. I am very grateful to her staff that I can call, consult at any time. I am glad that Kyiv Polytechnic supports me in my plans.

– Now when you have seen opportunities abroad, you can say with confidence that you want to work in Ukraine?

– Yes, I intend to stay in my country. Maybe I’ll go get some experience from American or European colleagues, but I’ll definitely be back. I think many, like me, want Ukraine to live in dignity. So it is time for us to do something about it.