German Scientists Discover Record-Breaking, PET-Eating Enzyme

Now is a fantastic time to be involved in plastic recycling. The need to recycle scrap plastic has taken on greater urgency in recent years, and this is leading to some pretty impressive discoveries. A case in point is a recent German discovery involving an enzyme capable of eating PET plastic waste in record time.

Science has known about plastic waste-eating enzymes for quite some time. But until recently, there hasn’t been an enzyme capable of making biological recycling a practical reality. Thanks to German researchers digging through a compost heap in Leipzig, this may be about to change.

Gone in 24 Hours

Good News Network reports that Leipzig University researcher Dr. Christian Sonnendecker and his team has identified an enzyme known as PHL7. This enzyme is apparently capable of eating PET plastic waste twice as fast as the current leader, an enzyme discovered in Japan known as LCC.

How fast does PHL7 work? Apparently, when applied to PET food packaging in a lab, PHL7 managed to reduce it by some 90% within about sixteen hours. A comparative LCC sample had only decomposed by about 45%. To us, both samples are pretty impressive. But 90% decomposition in under 24 hours is the stuff viable recycling is built on.

What happens to the plastic waste as it decomposes? It is broken down into its base components – terephthalic acid and ethylene glycol – both of which can be collected and put back into manufacturing new PET.

A Truly Closed Loop

Mechanical PET recycling works fairly well due to the nature of the plastic itself. You do not lose a lot of integrity when you shred the material and melt it down. But you do lose some. Therefore, you are not really creating a true closed loop via mechanical means. Biological PET recycling is the closest thing we have to a truly closed loop.

Breaking recycled plastic waste down into its base components more or less lets you start over. It is not quite clear if the two components in recycled PET are as pure as their virgin counterparts. But there shouldn’t be any issues with integrity, at least as far as we can tell. The researchers from Germany seem to agree. They are confident their process does indeed produce a truly closed loop.

What does that mean for the future of mechanical plastic waste recycling? In the short term, very little. The German researchers produced impressive results in a lab. Those results need to be repeated in a real-world setting before they can begin working on scaling it up. Even if their process proves to work as advertised, we are probably years away from a large-scale industrial application. Nonetheless, our industry does have something to look forward to.

We Want Your Plastic

We will be keeping an eye on this story in the coming months and years. In the meantime, we want your scrap plastic. We buy a variety of industrial plastic waste ranging from plastic purge to scrap cutoffs and baled PET bottles. Give us a call and tell us what you have. We will let you know if it is something we can use.

We operate in seven states, including Tennessee and Michigan. If we can use your plastic scrap, we will send our truck to pick it up from your location. You don’t have to lift a finger.

We love what we do because we know industrial scrap plastic recycling works. We are thrilled to be part of an industry that keeps plastic out of landfills. Perhaps someday we will be recycling PET with a record-breaking, plastic-eating enzyme that reduces it to almost nothing in under 24 hours.