US scientists have developed a ‘plastic-eating’ enzyme that can eliminate billions of tons of waste from landfills around the world.
It was created by engineers and scientists at the University of Texas at Austin and has the power to destroy PET (polyethylene terephthalate), which is ubiquitous in food and beverage packaging, textiles and polyester carpet fibers.
The discovery offers hope for solving global pollution by supercharged recycling on a massive scale. Large industries would be able to recover and reuse products at the molecular level.
This discovery, published in Nature, could help solve one of the world’s most pressing environmental problems: what to do with the billions of tons of plastic waste that accumulates in landfills and pollutes our natural lands and water.
The enzyme has the potential to accelerate large-scale recycling, which would allow major industries to reduce their environmental impact by recovering and reusing plastics at the molecular level.
PET represents 12% of all global waste. Like all plastics, it is made of long string-like molecules.
Decomposition in 24 hours
The enzyme breaks the plastic down into smaller pieces – chemicals that can be reassembled. In some cases, plastics can be completely broken down in less than 24 hours.
“The possibilities are endless across industries to leverage this cutting-edge recycling process,” said Hal Alper, professor in the McKetta Department of Chemical Engineering at UT Austin.
“In addition to the obvious waste management industry, this also gives companies in all industries the opportunity to lead the way in recycling their products.
Through these more sustainable enzymatic approaches, we can begin to envision a true circular economy of plastics.”
With information from Sunnyskyz