The global ecosystems are threatened by the rising tide of plastic pollution, and the United Nations has called on countries to curb their plastic waste, improve their recycling standards, and develop circular models of production. The vast majority of plastic waste doesn’t get recycled due to waste management systems not yet being sophisticated enough.
The result of this is that landfills, terrestrial environments and Marin ecosystems are now teeming with plastic waste, which places animal and plant life at serious risk. Humans also ingest plastics as it is found in our food and water, and it is expected that plastic production will increase by 40 per cent over the next decade.
However, a team of scientists have been working on a way to tackle this problem. Researchers at the Centre for Enzyme Innovation (CEI) at the University of Portsmouth and the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) in the US have developed a ‘super enzyme’ that can degrade plastic bottles six times faster than previous methods, reports Science Daily.
The substance was created by there combination of two different enzymes found in bacteria that have the capacity to natural digest plastic. The researchers are now looking at ways to maximise their efficiency.
John McGeehan, a professor at the University of Portsmouth in the UK who worked on the project, told the Guardian: “When we linked the enzymes, rather unexpectedly, we got a dramatic increase in activity.
“This is a trajectory toward trying to make faster enzymes that are more industrially relevant. But it’s also one of those stories about learning from nature, and then bringing it into the lab.”
The transatlantic teams believe that the enzyme will be particularly useful for the fashion industry which is responsible for massive amounts of waste every year. The majority of fast-fashion apparel cannot be effectively recycled, unless processed by the manufacturer, due to how fashion firms combine multiple types of fabrics and plastics into garments.
The enzyme could potentially help recyclers separate the fibres so that they can be repurposed.
In recent years, scientists have been searching for ways to better break down and recycle plastic, even using caterpillars, fungi, and other enzymes to help deal with plastic pollution.
The COVID-19 pandemic has worsened the plastic waste crisis, with the vast increase in hard-to-recycle medical personal protective equipment such as gloves and face masks, which is now overwhelming waste management systems, and in a bid to keep operating, restaurants are reliant on plastic take-out containers for their customers.
In the months ahead, a significant amount of this waste will most likely end up in the ocean, according to the Scientific American.
The new super enzyme could help break down this plastic, however, it would need to be retrieved from the ocean to do so.
In the meantime, the United Nations is calling on countries to go to the root cause of the problem: plastic production by multinational corporations. Many countries have since restricted and outright banned plastic production.
If plastic isn’t produced in the first place, then the world won’t need as many enzymes to deal with the ensuing crisis of plastic pollution.
The issue doesn’t end with businesses, there has to be less demand for plastic from the consumer. One way to help is to use environmentally friendly straws in the UK, so visit our site for more.