View Full Version : Enzyme eats plastic waste

09-16-2018, 03:08 PM
is there hope?


Scientists in Britain and the United States say they have engineered a plastic-eating enzyme that could in future help in the fight against pollution.
The enzyme is able to digest polyethylene terephthalate, or PET - a form of plastic patented in the 1940s and now used in millions of tonnes of plastic bottles.

PET plastics can persist for hundreds of years in the environment and currently pollute large areas of land and sea worldwide.

Researchers from Britain's University of Portsmouth and the U.S. Department of Energy's National Renewable Energy Laboratory made the discovery while examining the structure of a natural enzyme thought to have evolved in a waste recycling centre in Japan.

Finding that this enzyme was helping a bacteria to break down, or digest, PET plastic, the researchers decided to "tweak" its structure by adding some amino acids, said John McGeehan, a professor at Portsmouth who co-led the work.

This led to a serendipitous change in the enzyme's actions - allowing its plastic-eating abilities to work faster.

"We've made an improved version of the enzyme better than the natural one already," McGeehan told Reuters in an interview. "That's really exciting because that means that there's potential to optimise the enzyme even further."

The team, whose finding was published on Monday in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences journal, is now working on improving the enzyme further to see if they can make it capable of breaking down PET plastics on an industrial scale.

"It's well within the possibility that in the coming years we will see an industrially viable process to turn PET, and potentially other (plastics), back into their original building blocks so that they can be sustainably recycled," McGeehan said.

https://assets.weforum.org/editor/ZowikMkAOeGf5ad_EDF00mXIjkzyaACx2OA4R9Oh_w0.jpg (http://uopnews.port.ac.uk/2018/04/16/engineering-a-plastic-eating-enzyme/)

"Strong potential"

Independent scientists not directly involved with the research said it was exciting, but cautioned that the enzyme's development as a potential solution for pollution was still at an early stage.

"Enzymes are non-toxic, biodegradable and can be produced in large amounts by microorganisms," said Oliver Jones, a Melbourne University chemistry expert. "There is strong potential to use enzyme technology to help with society's growing waste problem by breaking down some of the most commonly used plastics."

Douglas Kell, a professor of bioanalytical science at Manchester University, said further rounds of work "should be expected to improve the enzyme yet further".

"All told, this advance brings the goal of sustainably recyclable polymers significantly closer," he added.

Phil Y
09-16-2018, 03:43 PM
There's always hope, but as long as people choose to use stupid single use plastic water bottles and rely on someone else to come up with a solution for their waste, that hope is slender.

09-16-2018, 04:24 PM
As a kid, back in the 50's, I remember that there was a 2 cent deposit on soda bottles to encourage people to return them. Why not reinstate that concept on plastic bottles, but make the deposit a buck? (And I don't mean a male deer!!!)

Phil Y
09-16-2018, 04:38 PM
We have that in South Australia. 10cents. It works well. You can always tell when you drive across the border, just going by the empties chucked onto the side of the road in other states.

09-16-2018, 06:05 PM
I remember going to the NZ Grand Prix with my brother and collecting soft drink bottles between races. At 3c a bottle it was a profitable and enjoyable day out.

09-16-2018, 07:06 PM
Many states have a 5 or 10 cents deposit on bottles - though some are carbonated beverage only.