The new enzyme that is changing how we recycle

Shutterstock.com/ Kateryna Kon

Recycling is something that is talked about a lot but is not done enough by most. While homes and businesses are starting to improve in their approach to recycling the process itself is still lacking. While many materials can be recycled a high number still can’t. For those that can, there are often high financial and time costs associated with recycling that means many businesses still don’t pursue these options for all of their products. A new discovery may help to change that.

Plastics are obviously one of the worst offenders when it comes to needless production and its impact on the environment. To help curb the impact on the environment we need to start recycling more plastics and in a better way. 

A new discovery that has been highlighted in a recent publication may provide an important solution. The research team has discovered a new enzyme that can recycle polyethylene terephthalate (PET) more effectively. PET is used in the majority of plastic soda and water bottles and so is a large contributor to the amount of plastic waste that we have today. 

While PET has been possible to recycle for many years now, the process has been poor. To date, the process to recycle PET takes a long time and it can only be recycled in a low-quality way. This means that the recycled material produced can only be used for things like clothing and carpets. The new method is much faster and it can result in a higher quality recyclable meaning it can be used for new food-grade products.

This means that large companies can now take the idea of recycling their PET products seriously on a large scale. While it may sound like an incremental change it is closer to a giant leap. This discovery moves the production of bottles closer to a circular life. Once a bottle is used it can be destroyed recycled and recreate from the same plastic. The new process is incredibly quick too, meaning it is suitable for large scale productions. In the study, 200grams of PET were recycled and in less than 10 hours it was reduced by 90% to its original chemical building blocks.

The solution will be fantastic for cutting carbon emissions, energy use, and incentivizing recycling. The company that made the discovery is now in talks with Pepsi, Nestle, and L’Oreal to bring the process into mainstream production capabilities. It is believed that full rollout on a worldwide scale will be possible by 2025. 

While there is still a process of heating and breaking down the bottles to allow the enzyme to do their magic it is estimated that the cost of doing this is just 4% compared to making a bottle from scratch. This is fantastic news as it means that companies will be incentivized from an environmental and economic standpoint. While many companies want to see positive environmental changes take place most will only change something if it benefits the revenue bottom line.

While this is great news for PET there are other plastics that need an improved process. Polyethylene and polystyrene are the two other big culprits when it comes to plastics and damage to the environment. They are used to produce shampoo, plastic bags, insulation, and packaging. For companies to truly make industrial processes circular these plastics require process improvement as well.

The latest enzyme discovery is fantastic news for the environment and for businesses. It means that PETs can now be recycled in a truly circular fashion which can save money and help fight the issues that are challenging the environment. However, there is far more work required before plastic stops being a central issue in the world today.