The scientists of the French sustainable plastics company Carbios have created a mutant bacterial enzyme that breaks down plastic bottles for recycling in hours.
The researchers of the company reported they’ve engineered an enzyme that can convert 90 percent of that same plastic back to its pristine starting materials. Existing recycling technologies usually produce plastic only good enough for clothing and carpets.
The new enzyme was revealed in research published in the April issue of the prestigious scientific journal Nature. The work began with the screening of 100,000 micro-organisms for promising candidates, including the leaf compost bug, which was first discovered in 2012.
The research team used the optimized enzyme to break down a ton of waste plastic bottles, which were 90% degraded within 10 hours, a significant increase from the initial enzyme degradation of just one percent after several weeks. The scientists then used the material to create new food-grade plastic bottles.
Carbios, the company behind the breakthrough, said in a statement that it is aiming for industrial-scale recycling within five years and it has partnered with major companies including Pepsi, Nestle and L’Oréal to further advance research and development.
The company noted its recycling process initiates a “real transition to a circular economy and can better prevent plastic pollution from harming our oceans and planet.”
According to the United Nations, as much as 300 million tons of plastic waste is created every year, as of 2018. They also estimate that since the 1950s, more than eight billion tons of plastic have been produced worldwide – with about 60 percent of those plastics ending up in either a landfill or the natural environment.