Recycling to the rescue

Forget recycling to save the planet, what about recycling to save lives (and still helping the planet too, of course…)? Libby Peake learns how scientists at IBM are using plastic waste to create superbug-fighting nanoparticles 

This article was taken from Issue 76

Many good things happen when you pop your used plastic bottles in with the recycling – you conserve resources, save energy, preserve landfill space and start off a process that can result in new bottles, plastic furniture or even a cosy fleece jumper. Soon, though, the simple act of separating out drinks bottles could turn into a feat of heroic proportions, becoming the first step in tackling drug-resistant superbugs – if scientists at IBM have their way.

Researchers at IBM’s Almaden research centre, in collaboration with the Institute of Bioengineering and Nanotechnology (IBN), Singapore,  have made what they’re calling a ‘nanotechnology breakthrough’. They’ve converted polyethylene terephthalate (PET) from waste plastic bottles into ‘biocompatible’ materials that specifically target and attack bacterial and fungal infections – including drug-resistant killers like methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA), involved in 0.2 per cent of all UK hospital deaths between 2008 and 2012.