Scientists discover enzyme, breaks down 90% of PET polymers in hours21 Apr 2020
PET plastic can now be broken down into food-grade materials within 10 hours due to a discovery by scientists at industrial chemical firm Carbios. This discovery will transition into industrial-scale trials in 2021 with the help of Carbios’ partnerships with PepsiCo, Nestlé and Suntory.
Although the PET hydrolase enzyme can break down plastics into their individual chemical components, this result is only available for 90% of PET polymers. Nevertheless, this is a significant upswing from prior depolymerizing technologies. FoodBev Media reported that current enzymatic solutions only degrade 1% of PET plastics after several weeks.
The discovery of this enzyme was originally published in the scientific journal Nature, which said, “This highly efficient, optimized enzyme outperforms all PET hydrolases reported so far.”
This new enzyme may present a breakthrough for manufacturers within the food and beverage space if Carbios is successful in scaling up production to a commercial level. Previously, PET plastic has presented a conundrum for manufacturers worldwide. While plastic is acknowledged to be bad for the environment – only 12-14% of hundreds of millions of tons of PET packaging is recycled, according to IHS Markit analysis – the packaging material is also favored for its capabilities in maintaining freshness and enduring temperature changes, all while remaining affordable.
By partnering with some of the world’s CPG giants, Carbios signals that there is ample interest from corporations in commercializing this technology. If successful, this new enzyme has the potential to allow companies to reconsider their approaches to packaging sustainability. In recent years, consumers have continually pushed for more sustainable options and companies from Nestlé to Montreal-based Loop Industries have stepped up to offer varying alternatives to plastic.
However, other industries like the North American fresh berry groups and companies like Coca-Cola have indicated their continued preference for plastic. Having a method to reuse 90% of plastic in a closed-loop economy could be a paradigm shift in what consumers and companies consider sustainable.
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