Breakdown Plastic Using Digestive Enzymes

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Recycling polyethylene terephthalate (PET) plastics is difficult as the hard material is tough to breakdown. For years there’s been research into using bacteria to eat the plastic to help with getting the plastic to reusable state. This year a bacterial enzyme called “PETase” has been found to be highly effective at breaking down this hardened plastic. The enzyme itself comes from a bacteria that was found within a plastic recycling plant (nature always finds a way) which was subsequently modified to be more efficient. This discovery may lead to a healthier use of plastic, but for now the best thing you can do is buy less plastic objects.

They compared the DNA sequence of the PETase gene with that of cutinases from thousands of bacterial species, looking for differences. They then created new versions of PETase, each with one or more of its amino-acid building blocks changed to resemble those of ancestral cutinases.

As many of the differences between PETase and cutinases were, presumably, what allowed PETase to do its job, they expected these new enzymes to digest the plastic less efficiently. To their surprise, however, one of the engineered enzymes (with two amino acids mutated to be more cutinase-like) was able to digest PET about 20% faster than the natural one. That is a modest increase, but one that came about by accident rather than design. This, Dr McGeehan argues, shows there is plenty of scope for further improvement.

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Chile Set to Ban Plastic Bags in Coastal Cities

ocean shore

Chile is set to be the first country in the Americas to ban plastic bags in coastal cities. Given the extent of Chile’s coastline this can make for a very positive impact on cleaning up our oceans. Plastic bags are a major threat to maritime life so any reduction in use of plastic bags helps the planet. Hopefully Chile’s upcoming ban will inspire other nations to follow suit!

“It will allow citizens to contribute in terms of ocean protection. Thus, we will be the first American country to implement a law of this nature”, added.

Such measure is of vital importance to marine species as these are negatively affected by the presence of plastic in the sea. They are even likely to perish due to the so-called buoyancy disorders.

According to data provided by the Chilean Ministry of the Environment, 90% of sea birds have a certain type of plastic in their stomachs, which urges to pass a law on the matter, specially given that studies foresee that, by 2050, there will be as many fish as plastic in the sea.

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Make More Things Out of Recycled Plastics

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Over at Vice, one author asked a simple question: why don’t we make everything out of relayed plastic? The short answer is that oil is too cheap and companies don’t see benefits of recylcing plastics on their bottom line. Instead of championing for higher consumption taxes or waiting for oil to go up again some people are changing the technology behind recycling plastics. By making the process of recycling cheaper, consistent, and more efficient we can make recycling plastics a default decision for many companies (and leave that oil in the ground).

Garcia said researchers are now looking for new and more efficient ways to make, and break down, plastics. “Since we make plastics chemically, the way we treat them at end of life is also probably going to be chemical,” she said.

Garcia cited a number of examples, such as chemical recycling, where the plastic is exposed to a catalyst at a very high temperature, causing the underlying compounds to break down. It’s how scientists have been able to make fuel out of old water bottles. Garcia said this technique still requires a lot of energy, and is very expensive, but she believes scientists will eventually figure out how to use a similar process at a much lower temperature.

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Billionaire Shipping Magnate Sponsors WWF Research Vessel


Kjell Inge Røkke made billions from running a shipping company and now he wants to give back to the very thing that made him wealth – the high seas. He has committed to giving away most of his fortune to better the world, and he just announced his donation to WWF Norway. His donation is specifically going to a research vessel that will provide scientists a great way to research the oceans. What’s more is that the same ship will be able to remove 5 tonnes of plastic from the ocean everyday!

Røkke, a former fisherman, said the oceans “have provided significant value for society” and directly to him and his family.

“However,” he noted, “the oceans are also under greater pressure than ever before from overfishing, coastal pollution, habitat destruction, climate change and ocean acidification, and one of the most pressing challenges of all, plasticization of the ocean. The need for knowledge and solutions is pressing.”

“The REV will be a platform for gathering knowledge,” Røkke told Business Insider. “I would like to welcome researchers, environmental groups, and other institutions on board, to acquire new skills to evolve innovative solutions to address challenges and opportunities connected to the seas.”

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Britain’s Bag Ban Boasts Big Benefits

England has put a 5p charge on plastic bags last year and it’s already having a huge impact on the environment. The use of disposable bags has decreased 85% since the same time last year! Last year 7 billion bags had been handed out compared to just 500 million so far this year. The Marine Conservation Society’s annual beach cleanup noted that the number of plastic bags found on the shore was done by a third – and that’s after just one year.

The charge has also triggered donations of more than £29m from retailers towards good causes including charities and community groups, according to Defra. England was the last part of the UK to adopt the 5p levy, after successful schemes in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.

Retailers with 250 or more full-time equivalent employees have to charge a minimum of 5p for the bags they provide for shopping in stores and for deliveries, but smaller shops and paper bags are not included. There are also exemptions for some goods, such as raw meat and fish, prescription medicines, seeds and flowers and live fish.

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