A team of researchers at the University of Austin in Texas, has come up up with a new enzyme based method – Fast-PETase – of breaking down PET plastics in a matter of days, rather than years. The method, which was reported in the prestigious Nature journal last month, used machine learning to create the mutations of enzymes they needed. More than twelve percent of all global waste is made up of PET. The plastic we use for our disposable soda bottles, dairy packing and assorted containers. Hugely useful, but with a huge negative impact on our environment. Now the hope is that we can recyle the waste plastic – polyethylene terephthalate to give it its proper name – back into its basic building blocks.
Of course we all know that the very best way to tackle our plastic waste crisis is not to use the stuff at all if can avoid it. And especially single use plastics. But until we all get enough religion to stop creating these packaging products, the next best thing is going to be recycling old stuff efficiently so we can stop using oil to make PET in the first place. This is where this new technique comes in. The researchers claim they can recover some 94.9% of the material at a purity of over 97% at ambient temperature, and what’s more then can do that to polyester fabric too.
In this graphic, we can see just how fast this stuff works at 50 degrees C. Quite incredible.