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Plastic-eating enzyme could transform recycling – Colorado Springs, Colorado

Colorado Springs, Colorado 2022-05-05 16:03:39 –

Landfills in the United States have over 30 million tons of plastic waste.

These plastics can take hundreds of years to decompose naturally.

Scientific progress can help clean it up much faster.

According to Hull Alper, a researcher at the University of Texas at Austin, the use of enzymes that eat plastic “can take that plastic waste and eliminate it.”

“We designed an enzyme that is a protein, which can actually chew PET plastic,” Alper said.

PET is an abbreviation for polyethylene terephthalate.

“This is the main plastic found in containers, water bottles, etc.,” says Alper. “This enzyme enters, chews, and breaks down into monomers. Monomers can be used in a variety of ways.”

In one study, researchers put a large piece of plastic in a bath of enzyme solution.

The enzyme decomposed the plastic within 48 hours.

This technique is dramatically different from current plastic recycling methods, where the quality of plastic deteriorates over time.

“By putting it back to the starting point,” Alper said, “you can put it back every time. We make fresh PET plastic every time.”

The idea of ​​enzymatically decomposing plastic dates back to the 1990s.

In the past, plastic-eating enzymes have worked at high temperatures, making it difficult to consider as a large-scale, cost-effective solution.

Alper and his team have developed an enzyme that works at temperatures of -50 degrees Celsius.

“The big challenge now is how to implement it,” Alper said.

Unlike a sterile laboratory environment, landfills are filled with recycling facilities “gunks in recycle bins containing food residues and other types of residues,” Alper said. “How do you clean them or separate the plastics so that you can run the process against them?”

Resolving these issues can take years.

When these enzymes become widely available, they are expected to become game changers.

According to one study, enzymes will reduce emissions from plastic facilities without increasing production costs.



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