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Scientists have discovered a mutant bacterial enzyme capable of almost completely breaking down PET plastic bottles within a few hours. In a proof of concept demonstration, the new enzyme was used to break down a ton of plastic waste bottles. In just 10 hours it had cleared 90% of the trash! This emerges from a recent article published in the journal Nature. In fact, researchers saw the incredible enzyme as late as 2012 when its properties were accidentally discovered during a screening of 100,000 microorganisms. Since then it has been subject to investigation and improvement.
Carbios, the French company behind its development, hopes to achieve industrial-scale recycling in just five years. To that end, it's partnered with companies like Pepsi and L'Oréal to speed up the process. It has also struck a deal with biotech company Novozymes to mass-produce the new enzyme. This is done using mushrooms in the mass production process. Also, Carbios plans to test its enzyme repeatedly in 2022 at a demonstration plant near Lyon, France.
The enzyme practically feeds on PET plastic bottles
The enzyme doesn't just break down plastic bottles, it does a lot more!
The most exciting part of the breakthrough isn't just the speed at which the enzyme can break down plastic bottles. The mutant bacterial enzyme actually breaks down plastic so that it can be recycled into new high-quality water bottles. This is a significant advance over the lower quality plastic that results from current recycling techniques.
PET plastic is the biggest polluter of the environment
"Current estimates suggest that of the 359 million tons of plastics produced annually worldwide, 150 to 200 million tons end up in landfills or in the natural environment," the researchers write in an article in which their work is described.
Researchers are now hoping to turn this alarming statistic on its head. And that with their mutated bacterial enzyme. Currently it can only recycle polymer polyethylene terephthalate (PET). However, PET is the world's most widely used thermoplastic polymer and is used to make plastic bottles, polyester clothing, food containers, packaging and more. Yes, nature keeps proving that she always finds a way to deal with our waste. Hopefully this enzyme will mark the end of plastic waste.
The enzyme looks something like this under the microscope
Soon we won't find any more garbage in the oceans