How do we break down plastic

Fight against plastic waste Researchers use new enzymes to break down plastic

Polyethylene terephthalate is a fairly young substance, measured by the time periods in which living things evolve. The plastic, better known to most people by its abbreviation PET, was only patented in 1940. British and American researchers were all the more astonished when they came across an enzyme in bacteria that can break down PET and make it digestible.

As reported by the team led by John McGeehan from the University of Portsmouth in England and Gregg Beckham from the US Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS), they found the bacteria in a recycling plant in Japan. There the single-celled organisms evidently developed the plastic enzyme on their own.

In order to study the enzyme more closely, the scientists used a special British research facility, the "Diamond Light Source". This is a so-called synchrotron that uses intensive X-rays. This means that an object of investigation can be illuminated ten billion times brighter than with sunlight. Researchers were able to take a close look at their discovery down to the level of individual atoms.

Use on an industrial scale

By changing the structure, the researchers were able to increase the effectiveness of the enzyme. Now they hope that further improvements will make recycling "the ever-growing mountain of plastic waste" even more efficient, McGeehan said. You want to use the enzyme industrially.

"We can all do a little bit to solve the plastic problem. But the research that created these miracle materials must now use all technological possibilities that are available to develop real solutions," said the British scientist.

Until then, it is still worth considering how each individual can reduce the consumption of plastic. Because the best help against plastic waste is to avoid it.