Enzymes are proteins which catalyse chemical reactions within living cells. Recently, scientists have discovered that certain enzymes can also be used to decompose plastics.
Breaking down plastic with biodegradation.
Plastic is a very durable material, but it can be decomposed by certain microorganisms through a process called biodegradation. During this process, enzymes produced by the microorganisms break down the plastic into simpler substances, such as the monomer of the original plastic, which can then be used to produce new materials.
The research behind this process
One example of this is the enzyme PETase, discovered in 2016 by Japanese researchers, which can degrade PET (polyethylene terephthalate) plastic in a very short timeframe. Another example is the enzyme MHETase, discovered in 2018 by researchers at the University of Portsmouth, which is capable of degrading MHE (methylene-phthalate-ether) plastic, one of the components of flexible plastics.
Research at the University of Austin in Texas has shown how bottles can be broken down in 24 hours and 51 other types of plastic in just one week at room temperature, without the use of chemicals and without pre-cleaning.
The need to continue to invest in enzyme research
However, currently available enzymes are not yet able to decompose all types of plastic quickly and effectively, and their large-scale production is still expensive. Furthermore, breaking down plastics can only ever be part of the solution to reducing plastic; there is also the need to reduce their production and use more sustainable alternatives. In conclusion, enzymes can be used to naturally decompose plastics, but further research is needed to render this process more efficient and economical. However, there is the potential to revolutionise the circular economy and nothing stands in the way of industrial applications.
Garzanti Specialties and enzymes.
Garzanti Specialties has been in the world of enzymes for over 50 years, and we believe that many applications for these products are still to be discovered to make current industrial production even more sustainable. We invite you to submit your projects, your goals and your ideas to us; one thing that’s clear is that together we can develop solutions that have yet to be “thought out”, as was the case until recently for plastic decomposition.
For further information, you can contact:
Business Manager Textile & Leather