A team of researchers has created a new super-enzyme that can boost the speed at which plastic bottles degrade by up to six times. It is estimated that it could be ready for large-scale use in less than two years.
The super-enzyme is based on bacteria that are able to consume plastic. A combination between the super-enzyme and another enzyme that consumes cotton would allow mixed-fabric clothing to also be recycled more easily. In the present, mixed-fabric clothing articles that aren’t wanted are incinerated or taken to landfills.
Plastic pollution is present at a global level across the world, and recent studies have revealed the presence of microplastic particles in air and water samples. Since it is hard to break down plastic bottles to fabricate new ones from the same material, even more plastic has to be produced every year.
Researchers bonded to separate enzymes that were observed in a plastic-eating bacteria that was found at a Japanese waste site a few years ago. An initial version of the enzyme was created in 2018, and it managed to consume plastic bottles after a few days.
A French company has also found an enzyme that can consume 90% of a plastic bottle in 10 hours, but this enzyme requires a temperature of 70 degrees Celsius. The super-enzyme works at room temperature, and collaborations between institutions could lead to even faster enzymes in the future.
While the use of such enzymes could bring benefits in the long run, it is also essential to reduce the reliance on plastic bottles at a global level. The fact that plastic is strong while also being lightweight makes it a favorite across many industries, with some even arguing that customers prefer plastic bottles instead of glass ones because the former is harder to break.
A paper has been published in a scientific journal.