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New Plastic-Eating Enzyme Sets Record For Speediest Decomposition Of PET

Indiatimes logo Indiatimes 20-05-2022 Bharat Sharma
© Provided by Indiatimes

Nobody likes plastic. It's convenient to use but takes millions of years to naturally disintegrate in the environment. Our oceans are already polluted with swamps of plastic and microplastics have now reached human lungs. Starting July 1, all single use plastic would be banned in India. In context of such pressing concerns, scientists have found a new enzyme that eats plastic in less than a day, setting a record.

Christian Sonnendecker © Provided by Indiatimes Christian Sonnendecker

How was the plastic-eating enzyme found?

The enzyme in question is called polyester hydrolase (PHL7) and was recently found at a German cemetery - simply chilling and digesting compost. Naturally, scientists from Leipzig University took the enzyme on a ride to the science lab. During lab trials, they found that the enzyme was able to decompose polyethylene terephthalate (PET) by 90% in less than 16 hours.

Also read: Researchers Have Developed A Rigid Coating For Paper, Eliminating Need Of Plastics Entirely

Only the dye and cutting edges remained. Photo: Christian Sonnendecker © Provided by Indiatimes Only the dye and cutting edges remained. Photo: Christian Sonnendecker

Mind you, this isn't the first plastic-eating enzyme discovered by scientists. But it definitely is the fastest. In 2016, scientists had discovered another plastic-consuming enzyme called LLC in Japan. Compared to LLC, PHL7 is twice as fast at decomposing plastic. Even then, neither LLC nor PHL7 can fully decompose PET plastics that have higher crystallinity, the ones commonly used in manufacturing bottles for soft drinks.

If we talk about punnets that are used to sell fruits and berries that have a tendency to spoil quickly, the enzyme was able to break 90% of a punnet in 24 hours. Could it get any better? Scientists claim that the byproducts of this recycling process may be used to create new plastic containers.

An answer to world's plastic woes?

According to National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL), about 82 million metric tons of PET are produced worldwide, and not enough is recycled. With such biological recycling enzymes available to us, plastic could be dealt with more effectively. The best part of PHL7 is that can start eating plastic without needing to crush, grind, or melt any of it.

Christian Sonnendecker can be seen here. Photo: Swen Reichhold © Provided by Indiatimes Christian Sonnendecker can be seen here. Photo: Swen Reichhold

Also read: Sponges With Special Coating Could Absorb Microplastics From Our Oceans

"By employing powerful enzymes such as PHL7 it is possible to directly recycle post-consumer thermoform PET packaging in a closed-loop process with a low carbon footprint and without the use of petrochemicals, realizing a sustainable recycling process of an important PET plastic waste stream," the researchers concluded in a study published in ChemSusChem.

What do you think about this plastic-eating enzyme? Let us know in the comments below. For more in the world of technology and science, keep reading Indiatimes.com.

References

Cassella, C. (2022). A New Enzyme Found in Compost Just Set a Speed Record For Breaking Down Plastic. ScienceAlert

(2022). NEWLY DISCOVERED ENZYME BREAKS DOWN PET PLASTIC IN RECORD TIME. Leipzig University

Sonnendecker, C., Oeser, J., Richter, P. K., Hille, P., Zhao, Z., Fischer, C., Lippold, H., Blázquez‐Sánchez, P., Engelberger, F., Ramírez‐Sarmiento, C. A., Oeser, T., Lihanova, Y., Frank, R., Jahnke, H., Billig, S., Abel, B., Sträter, N., Matysik, J., & Zimmermann, W. (2022). Low Carbon Footprint Recycling of Post‐Consumer PET Plastic with a Metagenomic Polyester Hydrolase. ChemSusChem, 15(9). 

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