This Plastic-Eating Enzyme Could Revolutionize Recycling

An international team of scientists have accidentally enhanced a plastic eating enzyme in a discovery that could change our relationship with plastic forever. The breakthrough, if scaled up, could lead to plastic being broken down into its original components and formed into plastic items again, removing the need for making more of the material.

With over 1 million plastic bottles sold a minute and at the current rate plastic set to outweigh fish in the oceans by 2050, plastic pollution is an environmental menace that has been dubbed a ‘planetary crisis’ by the United Nations.

Despite the huge challenge, Professor John McGeehan who headed the research believes the findings could turn the tide, “I think there’s been a huge amount of doom and gloom stories around plastics and justifiably because it’s a terrible environmental scourge. But this is a story where we’ve got some hope that we can actually put together.”

The research was based on a 2016 discovery in a waste facility in Japan of a bacterium that had evolved to eat plastic. During the teams attempt to understand the how the enzyme evolved they made alterations which inadvertently led to the enzyme eating plastic 20% faster than before.

VICE News travels to the seaside city of Portsmouth in the UK to meet the man behind the discovery and what it might mean for a world being poisoned by plastic.

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