Single use plastic waste is one of the largest problems facing humanity. According to Greenpeace, over 6.3 billion tons of plastic waste have been created and discarded, with only 9 percent of that number being recycled. This isn’t necessarily due to a lack of effort; plastics like polyethylene terephthalate, or PET, are very difficult to recycle.
Samantha Jenkins, a lead biotech engineer at Biohm, accidentally found a solution to this problem when a fungus she was studying for insulation panels made a bid for freedom and “ate” through the plastic encapsulating it. Jenkins is now further studying this fungus with PET and polyurethane.
“You put in plastic, the fungi eat the plastic, the fungi make more fungi and then from that you can make biomaterials… for food, or feedstocks for animals, or antibiotics,” Jensen told BBC.
The most realized version of this concept could be Carbios, a company that uses an enzyme that was found in a compost pile to break down PET. Through joining forces with L’oreal and Nestle, Carbios created the world’s first PET bottles made entirely from enzymatic recycling
“With traditional methods such as mechanical recycling, to make an end-product suitable for transparent bottles, you need transparent bottles as an input,” said deputy chief executive Martin Stephan. “With our technology, any kind of PET waste is recycled into any kind of PET product.”