An accident resulted in a plastic-eating mutant that just might save us all.

Plastic has been taking over our world for a while now.

You may not think too much about it, but plastic is a global crisis. A recent rundown in The National Review reveals that more than 8 million tons of plastic is regularly deposited in the ocean. It's killing sea life, endangering coral reefs, and affecting the fish we eat because of the toxins they ingest.

So much for a happy, carefree day, right?


But there's some good news on the horizon: Scientists have found a mutant bacteria that eats plastic.

A recycling mill in China. Photo by China Photos/Getty Images.

Of course, this mutant bacteria isn't exactly like the kind of mutants you see in movies and comic books. Although, I'll admit I initially thought, "Good! Someone's finally getting Storm to handle this whole climate change business." How cool would that be?

So maybe Professor X isn't coming out of hiding to help us with our global problems, but the reality of this news is just as exciting. According to The Guardian, an international team of scientists have mutated a bacteria's enzyme to fully break down plastic bottles.

The plastic-eating bacteria was first discovered in 2016 in Japan. Researchers studying plastic pollution — specifically polyethylene terephthalate or PET — discovered a colony of bacteria that fed on the plastic, breaking down strong chemical bonds as a means of survival. The bacteria back then, though, was eating through highly crystallized PET — the material plastic bottles are made of — at a slow rate. Researchers knew it would take a while for the bacteria to evolve into the environmental savior we need.

Scientists started studying the bacteria's evolution and discovered they'd unintentionally made it stronger.

"It's alive! It's alive!" they screamed. That's how I imagine the discovery of this mutated bacteria enzyme went, with all the blinking lights and klaxons of a superhero movie. That's what happens in labs, right?

Well, that's how it should have gone. Because this is exciting! After viewing a 3D model of the bacteria, scientists discovered that small modifications could make its enzymes much more effective. The BBC reports that PET takes "hundreds of years" to break down on its own, but with the modified enzyme, called PETase, the same process begins within a matter of days. The enzyme breaks down PET to its original building blocks, meaning that the plastic can be reused again without losing quality.

A Chinese worker sorts plastic bottlers. Photo by Fred Dufour/AFP/Getty Images.

Here's why this is important: You may think plastic bottles are recycled into new plastic bottles and that every bottle you drink from had a rich and beautiful life before it came to you, but that's not true. In 2017, BuzzFeed reported that Coca-Cola sourced only 7% of its plastic from recycled material and only 6% of Nestle's bottles were made from recycled plastic. The rest of all that single-use plastic being dumped is turned into other fibers like carpet and clothing.

This is because plastics degrade as they're recycled. "Bottles become fleeces, then carpets, after which they often end up in landfill," the BBC notes.

But PETase makes it possible to use PET in its original form over and over again.

We're only at the beginning of this development.

On one hand, PETase could bring us closer to true recycling (producing much less plastic and using much less fossil fuel) than ever before. But the research has only started. The breaking down process still needs to be made faster, so it could be years before PETase or anything like it is used on an industrial scale.

While scientists keep working to make PETase a worldwide plastic problem-solver, we can all do our part by reducing our reliance on plastic. Little things — like a reusable bottle for the gym, keeping metal utensils at work, and reusable bags and totes for trips to the store — can help keep the Earth clean, save animals, and make us a little less reliant on mutants (er, mutant enzymes) to save the day.

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Shopping sustainably is increasingly important given the severity of the climate crisis, but sometimes it's hard to know where to turn. Thankfully, Amazon is making it a little easier to browse thousands of products that have one or more of 19 sustainability certifications that help preserve the natural world.

The online retailer recently announced Climate Pledge Friendly, a program to make it easier for customers to discover and shop for more sustainable products. To determine the sustainability of a product, the program partnered with third-party certifications, including governmental agencies, nonprofits, and independent labs.

With a selection of items spanning grocery, household, fashion, beauty, and personal electronics, you'll be able to shop more sustainably not just for the holiday season, but throughout the year for your essentials, as well.

You can browse all of the Climate Pledge Friendly products here, labeled with an icon and which certification(s) they meet. To get you on your way to shopping more sustainably, we've rounded up eight of our favorite Climate Pledge Friendly-products that will make great gifts all year long.

Amazon

Jack Wolfskin Women's North York Coat

Give the gift of warmth and style with this coat, available in a variety of colors. Sustainability is built into all Jack Wolfskin products and each item comes with a code that lets you trace back to its origins and understand how it was made.

Bluesign: Bluesign products are responsibly manufactured by using safer chemicals and fewer resources, including less energy, in production.


Amazon

Amazon All-new Echo Dot (4th Gen)

For the tech-obsessed. This Alexa smart speaker, which comes in a sleek, compact design, lets you voice control your entertainment and your smart home as well as connect with others.

Reducing CO2: Products with this certification reduce their carbon footprint year after year. Certified by the Carbon Trust.


Amazon

Burt's Bees Family Jammies Matching Holiday Organic Cotton Pajamas

Get into the holiday spirit with these fun matching PJs for the whole family. Perfect for pictures that even Fido can get in on.

Global Organic Textile Standard: This certifies each step of the organic textile supply chain against strict ecological and social standards. Each product with this certification contains 95%-100% organic content.

Amazon

Naturistick 5-Pack Lip Balm Gift Set

With 100% natural ingredients that are gentle on ultra-sensitive lips, this gift is a great gift for the whole family.

Compact by Design (Certified by Amazon): Products with this certification are packaged without excess air and water, which reduces the carbon footprint of shipping and packaging.


Amazon

Arus Women's GOTS Certified Organic Cotton Hooded Full Length Turkish Bathrobe

For those who love to lounge around, this full-length organic cotton bathrobe is the way to go. Available in five different colors, it has comfortable cuffed sleeves, a hood, pockets, and adjustable belt.

Global Organic Textile Standard: This certifies each step of the organic textile supply chain against strict ecological and social standards. Each product with this certification contains 95%-100% organic content.

Amazon

L'Occitane Extra-Gentle Vegetable Based Soap

This luxe soap, made with moisturizing shea butter and scented with verbena, is perfect for the self-care obsessed.

Compact by Design (Certified by Amazon): Products with this certification are packaged without excess air and water, which reduces the carbon footprint of shipping and packaging.

Amazon

Goodthreads Men's Sweater-Knit Fleece Long-Sleeve Bomber

For the fashionable men in your life, this fashion-forward knit bomber is an excellent choice. The sweater material keeps it cozy and warm, while the bomber jacket-cut, zip front, and rib-trim neck make it look elevated.

Recycled Claim Standard 100: Products with this certification use materials made from at least 95% recycled content.

Amazon

All-new Fire TV Stick with Alexa Voice Remote

Make it even easier to access your favorite movies and shows this holiday season. The new Fire TV Stick lets you use your voice to search across apps. Plus it controls the power and volume on your TV, so you'll never need to leave the couch! Except for snacks.

Reducing CO2: Products with this certification reduce their carbon footprint year after year. Certified by the Carbon Trust.

Of the millions of Americans breathing a sigh of relief with the ushering in of a new president, one man has a particularly personal and professional reason to exhale.

Dr. Anthony Fauci has spent a good portion of his long, respected career preparing for a pandemic, and unfortunately, the worst one in 100 years hit under the worst possible administration. As part of Trump's Coronavirus Task Force, Dr. Fauci did what he could to advise the president and share information with the public, but it's been clear for months that the job was made infinitely more difficult than it should have been by anti-science forces within the administration.

To his credit, Dr. Fauci remained politically neutral through it all this past year, totally in keeping with his consistently non-partisan, apolitical approach to his job. Even when the president badmouthed him, blocked him from testifying before the House, and kept him away from press briefings, Fauci took the high road, always keeping his commentary focused on the virus and refusing to step into the political fray.

But that doesn't mean working under those conditions wasn't occasionally insulting, frequently embarrassing, and endlessly frustrating.

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If the past year has taught us nothing else, it's that sending love out into the world through selfless acts of kindness can have a positive ripple effect on people and communities. People all over the United States seemed to have gotten the message — 71% of those surveyed by the World Giving Index helped a stranger in need in 2020. A nonprofit survey found 90% helped others by running errands, calling, texting and sending care packages. Many people needed a boost last year in one way or another and obliging good neighbors heeded the call over and over again — and continue to make a positive impact through their actions in this new year.

Upworthy and P&G Good Everyday wanted to help keep kindness going strong, so they partnered up to create the Lead with Love Fund. The fund awards do-gooders in communities around the country with grants to help them continue on with their unique missions. Hundreds of nominations came pouring in and five winners were selected based on three criteria: the impact of action, uniqueness, and "Upworthy-ness" of their story.

Here's a look at the five winners:

Edith Ornelas, co-creator of Mariposas Collective in Memphis, Tenn.

Edith Ornelas has a deep-rooted connection to the asylum-seeking immigrant families she brings food and supplies to families in Memphis, Tenn. She was born in Jalisco, Mexico, and immigrated to the United States when she was 7 years old with her parents and sister. Edith grew up in Chicago, then moved to Memphis in 2016, where she quickly realized how few community programs existed for immigrants. Two years later, she helped create Mariposas Collective, which initially aimed to help families who had just been released from detention centers and were seeking asylum. The collective started out small but has since grown to approximately 400 volunteers.