Hundreds of millions of tons of PET(polyethylene terephthalate) plastic are produced each year to package everything from sodas to shampoo. That only a fraction of this is recycled leaves much of it to rest in landfills and the ocean. But efforts to deal with this monumental mess may soon receive a much - needed boost, with scientists in Japan discovering a new bacterium with the ability to completely break down PET plastics in a relatively short space of time.A team led by Dr. Shosuke Yoshida from the Kyoto Institute of Technology unearthed the bacterium, quite literally, by scooping up 250 debris samples from outside a PET recycling plant. Among the soil, sludge and other sediments, they discovered a bacterium that was actually feeding on PET as its energy and carbon source. When it was left alone in a jar with PET plastic, the scientists found that the material was completely broken down within a matter of weeks. At the heart of this healthy appetite for plastic were a pair of enzymes, which the microbe appears to have evolved in response to its PET - heavy environment. These enable the bacterium, which has been named Ideonella sakaiensis, to reduce the plastic down to its basic building blocks: two environmentally harmless monomers called terephthalic acid and ethylene glycol. While plastic - eating fungi has been discovered in the past, they haven ' t been so easy to produce. By identifying the gene behind the bacterium ' s creation of these two enzymes, the scientists were able to recreate them in the lab and have them break down the plastic on their own, suggesting a more effective approach to recycling and plastic waste management could be on the way.The research was published in the journalScience.