A new scientific breakthrough offers hope to the Earth’s mounting plastic problem. Currently, less than 10% of the plastic in circulation is recycled, which means the rest is sent straight to landfills. But one solution may offer a way to increase the amount of plastic that can be recycled whilst minimising the devastating effect of plastic in the oceans.
The new enzyme (FAST-PETase - functional, active, stable, and tolerant PETase), which was tested on PET (Polyethylene terephthalate), can degrade the plastic over 24 hours in temperatures of less than 50°C — a considerable advance for enzyme research. The development culminates 15 years of study into enzyme production, allowing the bacteria to operate in ocean environments, potentially removing billions of tons of ocean plastic. Scientists are now looking at ways to modify the bacteria to break down plastics other than PET, one of the most common types (used across 12% of products, including plastic lids and containers).
The process, known as depolymerisation, allows the plastic to be broken into smaller parts which are then chemically recombined during repolymerisation. As a result, it's incredibly energy-efficient and eco-friendly — much more so than plastic burn-off.
Even with their incredible efficiencies, we can’t rely on enzymes to do all the work. Allowing plastics to enter the environment, leech poisonous material into the oceans and break down into microplastics is still a hazard. Introducing enzymes may help, but the introduction will take time and won’t prove prevention altogether.
We need to take a stand against the production of new plastics. Sign up to ban single-use plastics in Aotearoa, and together, let’s send bottles the way of the plastic bag.
Sources: The Independent
About the author - meet Earthan James McCulloch
James is a literary student and environmental enthusiast who likes thinking about the better futures we could have (and those we best avoid). When not playing with other people’s dogs or taking long, mindful walks, he’s usually found reading and writing, often at the local library. You can check him out on his blog for something a little different, where he talks about all things literary or otherwise.