Scientists have discovered that adding enzymes and additives to the material leads to its rapid decomposition without creating microplastics.

A pinch of enzyme and a little degradable additive inserted inside the polymer can make plastic packaging completely degradable, without creating microplastics.

According to a recently published analysis in the journal Nature, published with colleagues by Ting Xu, at a moderate temperature, the plastic enriched with enzymes dissolved in compost or ordinary water, within one to a week.

“Biodegradability is not the same as decomposition in compost,” says Xu, a polymer scientist at the University of California, Berkeley, of the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory. He often finds pieces of biodegradable plastic in the compost he procures for his parents’ garden. Most biodegradable plastics go to landfills, where conditions are not appropriate, so this type of plastic often decomposes at the same rate as conventional plastics.

The incorporation of enzymes into biodegradable plastics should accelerate degradation. But this process often inadvertently creates potentially harmful microplastics, which appear in ecosystems around the world. Enzymes shrink and randomly cut off the molecular chains of plastic, leading to incomplete breakdown. “It’s worse than not degrading them at all,” says Xu.

Her team added individual enzymes to two biodegradable plastics, including polylactic acid, which is commonly used in food packaging. They added enzymes along with another ingredient, a degradable additive, which Xu had previously developed, which ensured that the enzymes did not shrink or break down. Enzymes prevented the formation of microplastics.

The addition of enzymes usually makes plastic expensive and compromises its properties. However, the enzymes studied in this study make up only 0.02 percent of the weight of the plastic, while the plastic is firm and flexible, like the one commonly used in food bags.

The technology is not applicable to all types of plastics, because their molecular structures vary, but the Ting Xu team is working on overcoming it. Xu has filed a patent application for this technology, and commercialization is also planned. “We want this to be in every grocery store,” she says.

E2 portal (Energy of the Balkans)

Source: E2 Portal by www.e2.rs.

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