Carbios technology creates first enzymatically recycled bottles

6 Jul 2021

French biochemistry firm Carbios announced that, in partnership with a consortium of CPG manufacturers, it has produced the world’s first food-grade PET plastic bottles made entirely from enzymatically recycled plastic .

Using Carbios’ enzymatic recycling technology, L’Oréal, Nestlé Waters, PepsiCo and Suntory Beverage & Food Europe have all successfully manufactured bottles for some of their leading products.

Carbios technology creates first enzymatically recycled bottles
Image Courtesy of Carbios

“It is very exciting to see that the quality of the prototype bottles made from colored recycled PET materials is virtually identical to clear virgin PET. When we reach industrial scale, this enzymatic recycling technology will enable us to produce high-quality rPET bottles,” Jean-Francois Briois, Nestlé Waters’ head of environmental sustainability and global R&D said in a release.

Although this initial round of production only resulted in sample bottles for products, including Biotherm, Perrier, Pepsi Max and Orangina, there are bigger production plans for this technology on the horizon. This September, Carbios will break ground on a demonstration plant. Then, by 2025, the company intends to open an industrial 40,000-ton capacity facility.

During its pilot production phase for this innovative plastic recycling alternative, Carbios collected data that indicate the future may be bright for rPET plastic production. With this new technology, a wide variety of PET plastics that would otherwise go to waste can now be recycled into virgin-like quality and sent back into use to perpetuate a continuous circular system of recycling. In a study done by employees of Carbios and published in the journal Nature, scientists found that the company’s new enzymatic recycling process can break down 97% of plastic in just 16 hours, making it “10,000 times more efficient than any biological plastic recycling trial to date.”

What makes this new enzymatic technology so effective is that it is based on a natural technology that is omnipresent in nature: decomposition. Researchers discovered that an enzyme called cutinase, which exists in compost heaps to break down carbon-rich material into amino acid chains, can be supercharged and put to work decomposing plastic. The repurposed enzyme breaks plastic polymers down into their building blocks which can then be manipulated and reconstructed into “ like-new, virgin-quality plastic.”

The company said that this process allows for PET polymers to be recrafted into clear bottles, colored options and complex plastic products.

“This is a truly transformational innovation that could finally fully close the loop on PET plastic supply globally, so that it never becomes waste,” Carbios CEO Jean Claude Lumaret said in a statement.

In addition to having the potential to save plastic from the landfill, Carbios found in a preliminary lifecycle assessment of this technology that its enzymatic recycling process can lower the carbon footprint of PET waste treatment by saving 30% of CO2 emissions compared to a conventional end of life mix of incineration and landfill.

With more and more manufacturers seeking alternatives to lower their carbon footprint in production, such a technology will undoubtedly prove popular once it has reached a commercialized scale. Carbios said it plans to license its technology to PET manufacturers worldwide in the future.

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