This ‘stomach’ is eating plastic and reducing waste

At the intersection of art and science, one Rutgers University-Camden professor has collaborated with students to create a “plastomach” — a plastic-eating stomach sculpture that has the potential to provide an eventual solution to some of our world’s ecological problems.

Associate Professor Elizabeth Demaray’s biological research shows that white rot fungi of the edible kind, like reishi, turkey tail and oyster mushrooms, loaded with enzymes, have the ability to digest the types of plastics that humans throw away and often end up in landfills or oceans. The “plastomach” sculpture is the result of a zero-waste challenge she posed to her students.

“My students were really interested in letting people know that there are other life forms that share our planet with us that are able to do things like utilize plastic as a resource,” she said.

The art-science project has just finished its three-month run at Swale House, where it consumed single-use plastic from visitors to New York’s Governors Island. Up next, it will go on display at 3 World Trade Center in the winter.

Demaray says that consumers who can’t “stomach” how humans are polluting the earth can make their own plastomach by cleaning and then cutting plastic into small pieces, which are easier to digest for the living sculpture than big ones.

The professor believes that the plastomach raises awareness about limiting the buying, use and disposal of plastics.