Plastic pollution is one of the main problems of the times in which we live. There are many organisations that work to promote a plastic free lifestyle and the clean-up our oceans, but there is still a long way to go.

Despite the fact that there is (unfortunately) a lot of negative news on the subject, a wave of positivity has emerged directly from our natural world: recent scientific research has shown that poplars are excellent plastic-eaters!

Research on plastic-eating poplars

This good news is the result of an all-Italian research initiative, conducted in Pisa at the Institute of Life Sciences of the Scuola Superiore Sant’Anna in collaboration with Pisa’s CNR Institute of Clinical Physiology.

The incredible results have been published in the journal Environmental Science and Pollution Research: the data obtained show that the species of poplar known as Populus alba are able to feed on phthalates, polluting chemical compounds commonly used in the production of plastics and harmful to man and the environment.

These are very volatile substances, which in a short space of time can travel over long distances, reaching even the most unspoiled areas of our planet. It seems, however, that poplars have the ability to deal with these substances and their roots are able to absorb and break them down.

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Comparison with other plants

They are certainly not the only plants to do us this great favour, but they do it in considerably greater quantities than any other plant organism.

Researchers discovered this by comparing the roots of this type of poplar with those of other plants, exposing them for almost a month to a harmful component of phthalates (dioctylflatate). This is a substance that the European Commission has banned from being used in the production of toys and many PVC products due to its harmful effects.

The experiment certainly came up with promising results: poplars are actually able to absorb these substances without any noticeable side-effects.

Good news for the environment and us all!