It is no secret that the use of plastic has increased remarkably throughout the decades. The environmental impacts of plastic have also been widely reported, but how bad has it really gotten? Let’s take a look at the numbers:
- 5 million plastic bottles are used in the U.S. every hour
- 8 million metric tons of plastic enter the ocean every year
- Over 1 million seabirds die every year from plastic entanglement and indigestion
- An estimated 9% of plastic has been recycled throughout our lifetime
- Just 14% of plastic bottles in the world have been recycled
Along with these alarming numbers, the Great Pacific Garbage Patch is growing and getting worse. If you’re unfamiliar with the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, it can be described as an “island” of sorts that is made up of trash and pollution in the middle of the Pacific Ocean, and the island is rapidly growing.
So far, the patch is three times the size of France and double the size of Texas, and it is made up of a lot of plastic. Reducing plastic waste can go a long way toward reducing this issue.
Solving the Problem
How can we fix this problem? Oddly enough, one possible way to hopefully end this pollution epidemic was found in a plastic recycling facility in Japan.
- In 2016, researchers discovered a bacterium that naturally evolved with the ability to break down PET.
- PET, polyethylene terephthalate, accounts for 20% of global plastic production and is found in a variety of common household objects. PET plastic is utilized in the production of soda bottles and water bottles, among many other products.
- Since the discovery of the bacterium, an international team of researchers and developers capitalized on the findings and conducted further experiments to see how powerful the bacterium could be and what it could mean for the world.
- Additionally, during the research process, scientists accidentally produced an even stronger version of the bacterium.
This new mutant enzyme is now even better at breaking down PET than the natural one. Enzymes are nontoxic, biodegradable, and can be produced in large quantities by microorganisms, all of which is great news for our pollution issue.
Scientists have learned that with the new enzyme, it takes only a few days to start breaking down the plastic instead of other constructed enzymes that take years and years to break down PET.
Looking into the Future
With this new discovery, scientists now hope that we will be able to significantly reduce the amount of plastic still in need of being recycled.
However, this enzyme has not yet reached full optimization. As it currently stands, the enzyme is able to break down a few milligrams of plastic per day.
- In the future, scientists are looking forward to transplanting the mutant enzyme into an “extremophile bacteria.”
- Once this occurs, the enzyme will have astonishing capabilities that will allow it to survive 70℃. The enzyme will also be more likely to degrade PET 10 to 100 times faster than it is currently capable of doing.
Even though the discovery of this enzyme is very promising, scientists agree that we are nowhere near solving the pollution problem. The plastic pollution problem is becoming one of the biggest environmental issues of our time.
There are other ways, however, to break down PET. Some fungi can break down the substance for instance, though it has been shown that bacteria are far easier to harness for industrial uses compared to fungi.
The goal of creating manmade, sustainably recyclable chemical substances is becoming much closer to a reality, and we’re excited to learn more on the topic as it becomes available.
What Does This Mean for the Plastics Industry?
Of the small number of plastic bottles that get recycled, few of them become bottles again. This is because recycling the PET polymer is extremely difficult to do. Since this new enzyme is able to break down the PET on its own, we will be able to see a greater increase in the amount of plastic being recycled.
With being able to recycle more, we’ll be able become a more sustainable world. By constantly reusing products and materials, the environment will not be as greatly affected. Scientists are expecting that once the enzyme is at full optimization, we will be able to create different living habits, which in turn will create a better world and a more sustainable way of living.
Want to Learn More?
If you are interested in learning more be sure to check out our news page for more articles like:
- How China’s New Brand Could Affect Plastics Recycling Worldwide
- 7 Ways Recycled Plastics Are Used in Construction
- 15 U.S. Companies Crafting Their Products from Recycled Plastics
If you would like to find out more about Shini USA, feel free to contact us today to request more information!