Can Biology Clean Up Sewage and Oil Spills?

From mushrooms to hair mats, quirky cleanups for man-made messes.

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Doing Our Dirty Work

Go With the Flow Inventor John Todd’s Eco-Machines use tanks of bacteria, fungi, plants, snails, and fish to digest sewage, releasing water clean enough to be reused for plumbing or irrigation. The man-made ecosystems can filter up to 50 million gallons a day and have treated wastewater from a Hawaiian resort and a chocolate factory.

Magic Mushrooms Fungi are marvelous biological filters, breaking down hydrocarbons, PCBS, DDT, and dioxin. Mycological genius Paul Stamets has used oyster mushrooms to transform diesel-soaked soil into a bed of gourmet fungi after just four weeks. Bon appétit!

Diet of Worms Thomas Azwell, an environmental science PhD student at the University of California-Berkeley, uses worms to digest organic waste from California Costco stores; the chain then sells the resulting compost, called Vermigrow, as a soil amendment.

Good Hair Day Oil clings to hair—which makes your mop an excellent material for mopping up oil spills. Matter of Trust, a San Francisco nonprofit, collected trimmings from 16,000 salons to make hair mats that soaked up slicks everywhere from car repair shops to San Francisco Bay. And Azwell is using his worms to convert oil-laden hair mats into fertilizer.

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Minority rule, corruption, disinformation, attacks on those who dare tell the truth: There is a direct line from what's happening in Russia and Ukraine to what's happening here at home. And that's what MoJo's Monika Bauerlein writes about in "Their Fight Is Our Fight" to unpack the information war we find ourselves in and share a few examples to show why the power of independent, reader-supported journalism is such a threat to authoritarians.

Corrupt leaders the world over can (and will) try to shut down the truth, but when the truth has millions of people on its side, you can't keep it down for good. And there's no more powerful or urgent argument for your support of Mother Jones' journalism right now than that. We need to raise about $450,000 to hit our online fundraising budget in these next few months, so please read more from Monika and pitch in if you can.

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