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‘An enzyme that eats up plastic in record time 16 hours’; Read on…

Plastic normally takes hundreds of years to decay naturally, but German scientists have developed a highly efficient enzyme that destroys PET at record speed. Given the grave situation of plastic pollution around the world, the discovery is being heralded as a gamechanger. The enzyme, known as polyester hydrolase (PHL7), was recently discovered chewing up compost in a German cemetery.

The Leipzig University scientists then transferred the enzyme to their lab, where they discovered that it could break down PET by 90% in less than 16 hours. This isn’t the first time an enzyme that eats plastic has been discovered. A PET-consuming enzyme known as LLC was discovered in a Japanese recycling factory in 2016. It is thought to be an especially effective ‘plastic eater’.

The newly discovered PHL7, however, is at least two times faster than the LLC, according to German researchers. The results were recently published in the scientific journal ‘ChemSusChem.’ According to Sciencealert, microbiologist Wolfgang Zimmermann of Leipzig University in Germany remarked, ‘The enzyme identified in Leipzig can make a major contribution to building alternative energy-saving plastic recycling technologies’.

‘The Leipzig biocatalyst has been proven to be highly effective in the quick disintegration of used PET food packaging and is ideal for use in an environmentally friendly recycling process in which new plastic can be created from the decomposition products’.¬†Furthermore, the researchers discovered that PHL7 decomposes polymers without the need for any pre-treatment. Plastic will be eaten without being ground or melted.

‘As a result, it is conceivable to directly recycle post-consumer thermoform PET packaging in a closed-loop process with a low carbon footprint and without the use of petrochemicals, accomplishing a sustainable recycling method of an important PET plastic waste stream,’¬†the authors conclude.


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