Much of the plastic waste that ends up in nature takes centuries to break down, but a variant of the enzyme created by engineers and scientists at the University of Texas at Austin can break it down in just a few hours.
The study was published April 27 in the journal Nature describes the use of a new variant of the enzyme created by engineers and scientists to reduce the time required to break down plastic waste. This important discovery could help solve one of the world’s most important environmental problems: what to do with the billions of tons of plastic waste that accumulates in landfills and pollutes our terrestrial, marine and other aquatic ecosystems. Namely, this enzyme has a huge potential to increase recycling rates, which would finally allow large industries to reduce their harmful impact on the environment by reusing plastics at the molecular level.
An enzyme that acts at ambient temperature
The project focuses on polyethylene terephthalate (PET), which is mostly used in the production of plastic bottles, food packaging and textile fibers and, according to estimates, accounts for 12% of total world waste. The enzyme, created at the University of Texas, managed to complete the “circular process” of breaking down plastics into smaller parts (depolymerization), and then chemically reassembling them (repolymerization). In some cases, this type of plastic can be completely degraded to a monomer in just 24 hours.
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