US Plastic Recycling

Goals

To learn more about a mutant enzyme that eats plastic with the key data points: Is this a viable alternative to help reduce the growing pile of plastic which is deemed non-recyclable? Is it environmentally safe to use this enzyme? Is the enzyme being sold on the US market?

Early Findings

A Mutant Plastic-Eating Enzyme

  • The mutant plastic-eating enzyme comes from a bacteria, Ideonella sakaiensis 201-F6, which was discovered in 2016 by Japanese researchers, who subsequently found that it could completely break down a thin layer of low-quality plastic within six weeks.
  • A Structural biologist named John McGeehan of Portsmouth University, England and his team have taken that enzyme and genetically engineered it so that it can begin the process in a matter of days. McGeehan shared in 2018 that his team wants to speed up the process even more, and find ways to scale it for industrial use.
  • At the National Renewable Energy Laboratory in the US, scientists are also working on the enzyme that is specifically referred to as PETase because it can eat PET plastic to make it work faster.
  • This mutant enzyme discovery is a viable alternative to help reduce the growing pile of plastic which is deemed non-recyclable. It takes centuries for polyester, scientifically known as polyethylene terephthalate or PET, to degrade naturally. This new development could finally allow the ability to fully recycle plastic bottles for the first time and slow down the rate that they are piling up in landfills and oceans.
  • This plastic-eating enzyme is considered to be environmentally safe to help create more environmentally friendly recycling.
  • In France, a startup called Carbios has developed its own enzyme, which can fully break down PET plastic so it can be recycled into new, consumer-grade plastic of the same quality as virgin PET. Major corporations including PepsiCo and Nestlé are now partnering with the company, which began building its first demonstration plant last year.
  • Research was unable to confirm that Petase or a similar enzyme developed by Carbios is currently available on the US market. However, the Carbios supply of enzymes "is guaranteed for the industrialization of CARBIOLICE and the commercial launch of EVANESTO® this year."

Proposed next steps:

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