Individuals are more and more made from plastic. The fabric from our discarded water bottles will get floor up into microparticles, which find yourself in all places within the atmosphere. Our oceans alone have an estimated 150 million tons of plastic in them. We then nosh on 50,000 of those items of plastic a 12 months, which have been found taking on residence in our livers, kidneys, and lungs. It’s sickening to take into account, and we nonetheless don’t perceive the long-term well being ramifications.
However what if our physique might really recycle plastic, breaking it down to maintain this waste out of our landfills and oceans?
That’s a query being requested by Matthew Harkness, a PhD candidate in philosophy, artwork, design, and media on the College of New South Wales in Sydney, together with his Biorecycling Machine. The machine is predicated on an open-source blueprint of a 3D-printed tattoo machine that he downloaded from GitHub. Then he added some distinctive ink: a combination of saline and finely floor plastic. The premise is that, after receiving a plastic-ink tattoo, your physique turns into the recycling machine, breaking down the plastic over the course of six months into innocent byproducts that your physique produces on a regular basis (particularly, lactic acid, carbon dioxide, and water).
The catch? This strategy solely works with a sure kind of bioplastic, which is mostly thought of protected for the human physique. Petroleum-based plastics, akin to the luggage that fill our oceans, needn’t apply.
The undertaking is speculative, meant to prod us to rethink our values. It’s not meant to change into an precise industrial product. As Harkness explains over e mail, his intent was to “interrogate the . . . ‘Reduce, Reuse, Recycle’ campaign launched within the Seventies. Central to this marketing campaign was inserting accountability for recycling plastics onto shoppers and within the Biorecycling Machine undertaking, this idea is taken to the acute.”
To this present day, that unfair stress on shoppers continues to mount. All kinds of plastic merchandise are labeled recyclable, however if you really strive to recycle them, you might discover that they simply find yourself within the landfill anyway. That’s as a result of native recycling facilities usually have neither the know-how nor the monetary incentive to recycle all “recyclable” issues. In response, “the Biorecycling Machine . . . provoke[s] viewers into contemplating a fictional narrative a few potential future the place they have to recycle plastic inside their physique virtually like an episode of Black Mirror,” Harkness says.
That stated, it’s apparent that Harkness finds his personal concept of turning the 7 billion people on earth into recycling amenities to be no less than just a little alluring, as a result of the science is possible, even when the logistics should not. His undertaking focuses particularly on polylactic acid (PLA) bioplastic. Developed from supplies akin to corn starch, PLA is a standard 3D-printing materials that’s usually considered to be safe for human our bodies. Harkness factors out that it’s utilized in all kinds of medical functions, akin to medical implants, and it naturally breaks down in your physique. (Simply because your physique can break down PLA plastic, and it’s useful in some medical contexts, doesn’t imply it has no impact on well being. Research from 2019 discovered PLA to be poisonous to the natural tissue of mice.)
Harkness has given only one tattoo with the Biorecycling Machine to date, however it was with typical, fairly than PLA-based ink. That’s as a result of Harkness is unsure if the plastics he’s sourced have undisclosed chemical contaminants. But when the undertaking ever scaled, Harkness suggests an alternate to human topics: the numerous pigs, cattle, and goats that are already tattooed by farmers every year.