french scientists have discovered a mutant bacterial enzyme that can break down plastic for recycling within hours. the plastic-eating enzyme could offer an innovative recycling solution for millions of tonnes of toxic plastic waste material.


according to ‘breakthrough’ new research that was published on wednesday in the journal nature, the enzyme was discovered in a compost heap of leaves. it reduces the bottles to chemical building blocks that can then be used to make high-quality new bottles.

scientists create enzyme that breaks down plastic to raw materials

image courtesy of nature



the research began with the screening of 100,000 micro-organisms for promising candidates, including the leaf compost bug, which was first discovered in 2012. as the guardian reports, the scientists analysed the enzyme and introduced mutations to improve its ability to break down the PET plastic from which drinks bottles are made.


the scientists also made it stable at 72c, close to the perfect temperature for fast degradation. the team then used the optimised enzyme to break down a tonne of waste plastic bottles, which were 90% degraded within 10 hours. scientists then used the material to create new plastic bottles.

scientists create enzyme that breaks down plastic to raw materials



carbios, the company behind the discovery, said it was aiming for industrial-scale recycling within five years. it worked with the toulouse biotechnology institute with the backing of a consortium of consumer goods firms, including suntory beverage and food europe – which owns soft drinks brands ribena and lucozade – and nestle waters.


PET is the most commonly used plastic material in bottles and other types of packaging. it can also be found in polyester clothing fibres. more than 70 million tonnes of the material is produced annually worldwide, roughly a fifth of all new plastic in any given year.


‘innovative ideas such as enzymatic recycling can help reinvent the lifecycle of plastic waste, turning post-consumer plastic waste back into a resource,’ said roberto vanin, suntory’s chief research and development officer, in an interview with businessgreen. ‘we’re excited to be at the forefront of worldwide efforts to enhance the recyclability of PET and bring a fully circular economy for plastic closer to reality.’