• Scientists discovered the origins of decorative eggs at the British Museum.
  • A new enzyme can break down 90% of PET waste in 10 hours.
  • The recent supermoon was a 'pink moon,' the most dramatic of all supermoons.

As the world continues to focus on the COVID-19 pandemic, here are a few interesting stories you might have missed in the last week.

1. Ostrich eggs unlock the secrets of ancient trade

Scientists have uncovered the origins of the decorative eggs in the British Museum.
Scientists have uncovered the origins of the decorative eggs in the British Museum.
Image: jononmac46/University of Bristol

Easter eggs as we know them today have been around since Victorian times, when confectioners started to produce chocolate versions. But decorative eggs have been given as gifts in the spring for centuries, and eggs have long been a part of Christian celebrations.

Now, researchers at the University of Bristol have discovered new information about the origins and supply chain behind the decorated ostrich eggs in the British Museum’s collection. Using state-of-the-art scanning electron microscopy, scientists looked at the eggs’ chemical make-up to uncover where the eggs were sourced, whether the ostriches were captive or wild and the manufacturing methods used.

“The entire system of decorated ostrich egg production was much more complicated than we had imagined! We also found evidence to suggest the ancient world was much more interconnected than previously thought,” said project lead Dr Tamar Hodos, Reader in Mediterranean Archaeology at the University of Bristol.

The team found the eggs had come from distinct temperate zones, suggesting extensive trade routes between the eastern Mediterranean and north Africa. They also believe the eggs were taken from wild birds’ nests – a risky undertaking, since ostriches can weigh up to 350 pounds and have the ability to kick a human to death.

That risk, along with the time required to dry the eggs out and decorate them, made them highly prized by wealthy individuals.

Chances are, your own Easter egg was much easier to procure.

2. Fully reusable recycled plastic

French researchers have developed a novel enzyme with the ability to convert 90% of recycled polyethylene terephthalate (PET) waste into new bottles that are as strong as virgin plastic.

PET is the most common form of polyester plastic, with almost 70 million tonnes manufactured worldwide every year. But while PET bottles are widely recycled, typically only 30% of the original plastic can be reused for packaging, because it loses its integrity during the recycling process.

Scientists from sustainable plastics company Carbios and the Toulouse Biotechnology Institute have produced a mutant enzyme that can break down 90% of PET waste in just 10 hours, compared to earlier yields of only 1% within a period of several weeks.

In a study published in the journal Nature, they demonstrated that depolymerising PET waste in this way could contribute to the circular economy by producing the “building blocks” of PET, even from bottles of different colours.

Carbios is building a demonstration plant in Lyon that is expected to recycle hundreds of tonnes of PET a year. It says the technology also paves the way for recycling PET fibres.


What is the World Economic Forum doing about plastic pollution?

More than 90% of plastic is never recycled, and a whopping 8 million metric tons of plastic waste are dumped into the oceans annually. At this rate, there will be more plastic than fish in the world’s oceans by 2050.

The Global Plastic Action Partnership (GPAP) is a collaboration between businesses, international donors, national and local governments, community groups and world-class experts seeking meaningful actions to beat plastic pollution.

In Ghana, for example, GPAP is working with technology giant SAP to create a group of more than 2,000 waste pickers and measuring the quantities and types of plastic that they collect. This data is then analysed alongside the prices that are paid throughout the value chain by buyers in Ghana and internationally.

It aims to show how businesses, communities and governments can redesign the global “take-make-dispose” economy as a circular one in which products and materials are redesigned, recovered and reused to reduce environmental impacts.

Read more in our impact story.

3. Supermoon looms above the Earth

From Moscow to Madrid, Caracas to Canberra, the biggest moon of 2020 diverted everyone’s attention on 7 April.

A supermoon is when the moon is within 10% of its closest distance to the Earth at the same time as a full moon; making it appear up to 14% bigger and 30% brighter than at its furthest distance.

This week’s so-called “pink moon” – named for a North American spring wildflower – is the third supermoon of the year and the most dramatic.

According to the Royal Observatory Greenwich, the appearance of the moon in this state is an optical illusion: as it rises, a full moon looks bigger than it actually is “because our brain doesn’t understand that the sky is a dome. It falsely projects things nearer the horizon to look bigger than they are.”