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Enzyme breaks down PET. Innovative method presented for recycling plastic

Plastic waste has become a global environmental issue. Roughly 359 million tonnes of it are accrued around the world each year, and it is put in landfill, incinerated or dumped unchecked in the environment. A significant contributing cause to this problem are the 70 million tonnes of polyethylene terephthalate, or PET, which is widely used to manufacture plastic bottles and is difficult to recycle. French cleantech start-up Carbios recently presented a recycling process for plastic waste in Nature magazine and announced the construction of a demonstration system. Alain Marty and his colleagues report that they have developed an enzyme that can efficiently break down PET into its monomer components. This promising recycling method is the result of five years of research and development collaboration between Carbios and Toulouse Biotechnology Institute. The start-up has already filed for 12 patents and built a pilot system in Clermont-Ferrand. When the used bottles are put in this system, they are pulverised, mixed with water in a tank and then enriched with the enzymes. The enzymes break down the PET into its constituent parts within just a few hours. The clean monomers obtained using this method have the same properties as fresh monomers obtained from raw petrochemical substances, which means they can be used once again to manufacture bottles. The innovative process could pave the way for a PET-based circular economy. Industrial operation is planned to commence in June with the construction of a demonstration system in Saint-Fons, south of Lyons, in the Vallée de la chimie industrial zone. Carbios is receiving support from some of the most significant plastic consumers for its project, including L’Oréal, Pepsico, Nestlé Waters and Orangina Schweppes.

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