Around a million plastic bottles are sold worldwide every minute. You don’t even need a calculator to determine that every hour there are 60 million and that every day there are 1,440 million plastic bottles sold. This means that they are also manufactured at this rate and, for the most part, are discarded at this rate. However, the recycling rate only reaches 14% of these bottles. The rest happen to thicken the landfills and, many of them, the oceans. The plastic problem is worrisome. This garbage that is generated in one part of the world ends up saturating other places. Marine currents drag and accumulate tons of plastic in remote corners. And plastic is very difficult to degrade. The oceans would take centuries to do so.
However, an enzyme discovered by a team of Japanese researchers could help in the fight against plastic. The work of decomposition that the seas would do in hundreds of years, this enzyme can do it in a few days. What it does is reduce the plastic to its original compounds.
The research comes from a discovery in 2016. The team of Japanese scientists found that there was a bacterium that had naturally evolved to eat plastic. They found it in a landfill in Japan, and from there they began to explore it.
Scientists have not revealed the structure of this enzyme that gives rise to this process. But the results are known: the plastic is completely recycled. Until now, recycling did not allow a plastic bottle to be fully recovered. To know more about this enzyme was artificially modified.
The idea was to discover more information about its operation. But the results have been others. Researchers have made the enzyme break down the plastic even better than it did before. Its feeding object is PET (polyethene terephthalate), used in the manufacture of bottles used for soft drinks and other beverages that are sold massively.
There are two benefits that this enzyme can bring. One of them, which seems the most pressing, is to combat the problem of plastic. It is a method that recycles it completely and that could become competitive in price, compared to those currently used. The second advantage is that if the plastic is completely recycled it would not be necessary to extract oil to create these bottles.