Certain types of bacteria naturally break down plastic. Harnessing the power of these special bacteria, scientists have created a “super enzyme” that can degrade plastic bottles. And it’s doing it at a rate six times faster than previously projected.
The enzyme was created by connecting two enzymes found in plastic-eating bugs at a Japanese waste site in 2016. The initial plastic-eating enzyme was created in 2018, but an updated version from researchers at the University of Portsmouth, UK is vastly more efficient. Their version builds upon one released in April by the French company Carbios. Their version was able to consume 90 percent of plastic bottles within 10 hours but had to operate under warm conditions. The new version works just as well at room temperature.
What’s next? Making them work even faster. A new £1m testing center is now being built in Portsmouth as well as one run by Carbios in Lyon to make the enzyme even more effective. The team is also working on combining the plastic-eating enzyme with one that digests natural fibers to break down mixed fabrics like those in the world’s growing heaps of discarded textiles.
While exciting new solutions like these super enzymes are intriguing, it will take time to scale them up for global use, so focusing on single plastic generation and waste in the first place is also vitally important for reducing plastic pollution.