Science may have just found the answer to what to do with the billions of tons of plastic waste lying around in landfills or polluting our environment.
New research was published April 27th in Nature magazine where engineers and scientists at the University of Texas at Austin discovered a new enzyme called the FAST-PETase.
This enzyme variant eats plastics and can break them down in just a matter of hours to days. Normally, plastic degradation takes decades or centuries.
This enzyme could allow major industries to reduce their environmental impact by recovering and reusing plastics at the molecular level.
“The possibilities are endless across industries to leverage this leading-edge recycling process,” said Hal Alper, professor in the McKetta Department of Chemical Engineering at the University of Texas at Austin.
The enzyme eats polyethylene terephthalate (PET) found in most consumer packaging that constitutes 12% of all global waste. According to scientists, decomposed plastic can become a new plastic product, so the enzyme approach could lead a true circular plastics economy.
Another positive impact is boosting the so-called plastic credits. Plastic credits work like carbon credits in the sense that a company can purchase a ton of plastic credits to offset a ton of its own plastic footprint.
The money spent on the plastic credits goes toward environmental projects that eliminate an equal amount of orphan plastic waste. The credits are a new concept and are still not regulated the way carbon credits are.
Therefore, scrutiny and due diligence must be applied when choosing a company that handles plastic credits to make sure funds will truly go to offsetting plastic pollution.
The new enzyme provides a solution to plastic waste around the world and could boost the quality of plastic credits. The circular carbon economy for PET is theoretically unattainable without the rapid decomposition of waste via enzymes and then converting them to new products.