In a major boost to the fight against plastics, scientists have engineered a mutant bacterial enzyme that can break down plastic, especially bottles, within a matter of few hours to their initial chemical building blocks. Originally discovered in a compost heap, the improved enzyme was unveiled in the journal Nature. Moreover, the reduced material is good enough to be recycled into high-quality new bottles.
The research team comprised of scientists from France-based “green chemistry” company Carbios and the Université de Toulouse. The team discovered that the improved enzyme breaks down 90 per cent of plastic bottles within 10 hours — a significant increase from the initial enzyme degradation of just one per cent after several weeks. “This highly efficient, optimized enzyme outperforms all PET hydrolases reported so far,” the researchers stated.
Carbios is already collaborating with Pepsi and L’Oréal to unleash industrial market-scale production of the new substance within five years.“We are the first company to bring this technology on the market,” said the deputy chief executive at Carbios, Martin Stephan. “Our goal is to be up and running by 2024–2025, at a large industrial scale.”
According to the United Nations, as much as 300 million tonnes of plastic waste is created every year, as of 2018. The discovery fuels fresh hopes for efficient plastic pollution control.