Miranda Wang: Plastic-eating Bacteria

“It’s accurate to say that plastic pollution is now a global crisis that doesn’t just threaten the lives of millions and millions of wildlife, but also is threatening the safety of literally everyone in this room and everyone on this planet.”


Through a high school research project in 2011, Miranda Wang and Jeanny Yao discovered a bacteria in a local river that can degrade a harmful plasticizer called phthalates. The technical pair has since turned their discovery of plastic-eating bacteria into an innovative, award-winning business model. As undergraduates at the University of Pennsylvania and the University of Toronto, respectively, Miranda and Jeanny co-founded BioCellection, a company working to advance solutions by upcycling plastic pollution into valuable materials for textiles.

BioCellection is using synthetic biology to turn a global crisis into an even larger opportunity. Recycling technologies simply aren't cutting it. At present, only a small percentage of post-consumer plastic waste is recycled. The rest becomes pollution. BioCellection approaches solutions by focusing on one type of plastic at a time, starting with polystyrene, which has very low recyclability despite its all-too-common use (think carry-out food containers, cups, packaging). Although it only accounts for about 8 percent of all plastics produced worldwide, polystyrene makes up an estimated one third of marine pollution. In partnership with Parley, ocean plastic materials recovered from the Global Cleanup Network are sent to the lab for testing and analysis to further drive eco-innovation.

Watch Miranda tell her story at Parsons x Parley:


Plasticizers and Human Health

Synthetic chemicals used in the production of plastic like phthalates and bisphenol A (BPA) can leach into food and ultimately, your bloodstream. Once in the body, they act as an endocrine disruptor linked to birth defects, infertility, cancer, and a number of adverse effects on human health. In 2007, a study by the Centers for Disease Control showed that over 93 percent of Americans have BPA in their blood.


Avoid. Intercept. Redesign. 

There is no quick-fix to the massive, global issue of plastic pollution. The solution lies in a diversity of solutions. Science and technology will be imperative as we work together to redesign current materials and methods, but this only works longterm if we also do our part to turn off the tap. Don't wait for some genius or magician to come along and clean up the mess. Start owning your impacts today. One thing you can do right now: eliminate unnecessary single-use plastics from your life on #ParleyAIR. The oceans — and your own health — will thank you. 




Learn more about BioCellection.

Watch Miranda and Jeanny's TED Talk


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