Enzymes produced in the stomachs of certain bacteria found during several high-profile discoveries have been combined by English scientists to create a super enzyme, reducing the time it takes for these chemicals to depolymerize, or breakdown plastic from weeks into hours.
The new discovery would further triple this speed at which the plastic polymers are undone. The field of organic enzymatic plastic recycling blew up during the second half of the 2010s, with Japanese scientists in 2016 discovering a bug that lived on plastic trash mounds which actually ate the material and disconnected the polymers of polyethylene terapthalate (PET), one of the most common plastics used in making water bottles and clothing.
Professor John McGeehan from the Center for Enzyme Innovation at the University of Portsmouth would, in 2018, create a superior version of it in his lab completely by accident, that sped up the depolymerization time significantly.
Another breakthrough would come in April of this year from the University of Toulouse, where an enzyme extracted from composting leaves depolymerized PET in about 10 hours when heated to 70°C (158°F).
A French company Carbios would take this technology and lay the groundwork for a market application by 2024-2025.