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Texas Scientists Have Created a Protein That Breaks Down Plastic Bottles

in Enviroment 305 views

A ‘Pac-Man’ protein that gobbles up plastic and breaks it down could open the door to eliminating billions of tons of landfill waste.

The enzyme destroys PET (polyethylene terephthalate), which is ubiquitous in food and drink packaging, textiles, and polyester carpet fibers.

It offers hope for solving global pollution by supercharging recycling on a large scale. Major industries would be able to recover and reuse products at the molecular level.

“The possibilities are endless across industries to leverage this leading-edge recycling process,” said Professor Hal Alper, of The University of Texas at Austin. “Through these more sustainable enzyme approaches, we can begin to envision a true circular plastics economy.”

PET makes up 12 percent of all global waste. Like all plastics, it’s made up of long string-like molecules.

The enzyme reduces them into smaller parts—chemicals which can then be reassembled.

In some cases, the plastics can be fully broken down in as little as 24 hours.

Artificial intelligence, machine learning, generated novel mutations to a natural enzyme called PETase that allows bacteria to degrade PET.

The computer identified those that would be most effective at less than 122 degrees-F (50-C), making it both portable and affordable.

Prof. Alper and his colleagues analyzed dozens of discarded plastic items including containers, water bottles and polyester fibers and fabrics—all made from PET.

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Leaving No Molecule Behind: ‘Landfill of the Future’ Turns Farming Waste Into Soaps, Compost, and Candles

in Enviroment 274 views

Among sparsely populated communities in Newfoundland, a landfill for the future—where every molecule is accounted for and reused—is steadily growing its portfolio of circularly produced goods that utilize waste from the island’s forests, farms, and fisheries.

For clients, it’s just like any other landfill. They can go and dump whatever amount of biological waste that they have from their operations, and then drive off without ever needing to think about it again.

But for investors, for consumers, and for the world, 3F Waste Recovery is anything but ordinary.

“3F is founded on the principle that every molecule that comes through our door, we want to have an application for it,” Founder Ben Wiper explains to Hakai Magazine. “My vision is the landfill of the future—where producers can take anything they haven’t processed, to break it down into a form that has a function.”

Science has moved us into an increasingly molecularized world. It’s common to hear businesses accounting for things like protein or CO2, as if they’re counting assets, expenditures, or cash flow.

When a company has the technology to turn practically all kinds of biological waste into valuable consumer products, this accounting method becomes even more extreme. Every unit of lignin not burnt from a tree means one more unit of lignin needed from a tree that hasn’t been felled. Every unit of cod skin placed in a landfill is one more unit of cod skin needed from a living cod.

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