Saturday April 20, 2019

Plastics Can Be Eaten By Enzymes And Reduce Pollution

The enzyme is able to digest polyethylene terephthalate

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Packs of flattened polyethylene terephthalate (or PET) bottles are carried into a depot before being pulverized as part of a recycling process at Tokyo PET Bottle Recycle Co. in Tokyo, Aug. 13, 2002. Researchers in Britain and the United States have engineered an enzyme that breaks down such plastics.
Packs of flattened polyethylene terephthalate (or PET) bottles are carried.VOA

Scientists in Britain and the United States say they have engineered a plastic-eating enzyme that could help in the fight against pollution.

The enzyme is able to digest polyethylene terephthalate, or PET — a form of plastic patented in the 1940s and now used in millions of tons of plastic bottles. PET plastics can persist for hundreds of years in the environment and currently pollute large areas of land and sea worldwide.

Researchers from Britain’s University of Portsmouth and the U.S. Department of Energy’s National Renewable Energy Laboratory made the discovery while examining the structure of a natural enzyme thought to have evolved in a waste-recycling center in Japan.

Finding that this enzyme was helping a bacteria to break down, or digest, PET plastic, the researchers decided to “tweak” its structure by adding some amino acids, said John McGeehan, a professor at Portsmouth who co-led the work.

This led to a serendipitous change in the enzyme’s actions — allowing its plastic-eating abilities to work faster.

“We’ve made an improved version of the enzyme better than the natural one already,” McGeehan told Reuters in an interview.

“That’s really exciting because that means that there’s potential to optimize the enzyme even further.”

The team, whose finding was published Monday in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences journal, is now working on improving the enzyme further to see if it could be capable of breaking down PET plastics on an industrial scale.

Plastic pollution
Plastic pollution, Pixabay

“It’s well within the possibility that in the coming years we will see an industrially viable process to turn PET, and potentially other [plastics], back into their original building blocks so that they can be sustainably recycled,” McGeehan said.

‘Strong potential’

Independent scientists not directly involved with the research said it was exciting, but cautioned that the enzyme’s development as a potential solution for pollution was still at an early stage.

“Enzymes are non-toxic, biodegradable and can be produced in large amounts by microorganisms,” said Oliver Jones, a Melbourne University chemistry expert. “There is strong potential to use enzyme technology to help with society’s growing waste problem by breaking down some of the most commonly used plastics.”

Douglas Kell, a professor of bioanalytical science at Manchester University, said further rounds of work “should be expected to improve the enzyme yet further.”

Also read: Ayushmann Khurana speaks against plastic pollution

“All told, this advance brings the goal of sustainably recyclable polymers significantly closer,” he added. (VOA)

Next Story

‘Big Steps To Reduce Carbon Emission’ Apple Expects Cooperation With China on Clean Energy

It's right for the Chinese government to remain "vigilant about making sure material really doesn't end up being dumped"

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recycling robot
In response to a question over whether Apple is planning to deploy the Daisy robot system in Asia, especially in China, Jackson said Apple is looking at unique recycling solutions in China "because we have manufacturers there". Pixabay

Apple is expecting more cooperation with China on clean energy as it released its 2019 Environment Report that outlines its climate change solutions ahead of Earth Day, which falls on April 22.

In the “Environmental Responsibility Report”, Apple has set an ambitious goal to “make products without taking from the Earth” and vowed to adopt “big steps” to reduce emissions of carbon dioxide from its business operations.

Apple said 44 of its suppliers have committed to 100 per cent renewable energy for their production of Apple products, Yonhap news agency reported late on Thursday.

Apple
Apple announced that it will quadruple the number of outlets in the US to recycle used iPhones returned by US customers, which will be disassembled by its recycling robot, Daisy.
Pixabay

Among them, “the majority of clean supply chain, clean energy suppliers are in China in terms of both attaining the clean energy goal and cooperation in the use of safer materials and smarter chemistry”, Lisa Jackson, Apple’s vice president of Environment, Policy and Social Initiatives, said at a recent event promoting the company’s environment initiative.

As one of Apple’s biggest manufacturers and markets in the world, China is critical to success in all of Apple’s environmental initiatives, she said.

“I think it’s important to know Chinese manufacturers can be partners in the innovation because the Chinese manufacturers have real expertise and applications which they can bring to the table,” she added.

In order to promote circular economy, Jackson said Apple is working with a number of partners including the China Association of Circular Economy to enable the movement of materials in a way that not only “protects the environment, protects innovation, but also moves us forward in reusing materials”.

Apple announced that it will quadruple the number of outlets in the US to recycle used iPhones returned by US customers, which will be disassembled by its recycling robot, Daisy.

Daisy can disassemble 15 different iPhone models at the rate of 200 per hour, according to Apple.

Apple
In the “Environmental Responsibility Report”, Apple has set an ambitious goal to “make products without taking from the Earth” and vowed to adopt “big steps” to reduce emissions of carbon dioxide from its business operations. Pixabay

In response to a question over whether Apple is planning to deploy the Daisy robot system in Asia, especially in China, Jackson said Apple is looking at unique recycling solutions in China “because we have manufacturers there”.

“We need to do a lot more work in China. We need to work really closely with governments to move materials around,” she said.

“I would expect that we’re going to have some unique recycling solutions for China, and that would be great,” Jackson added.

Also Read: Researchers Develop, New Adhesive Patch That Can Minimize Heart Attack Damage
It’s right for the Chinese government to remain “vigilant about making sure material really doesn’t end up being dumped”, said Jackson.

“We don’t ever want that to happen with any of our products. So we have to continue to work to find a way that allows us to move forward and is respectful,” she noted. (IANS)