Plastic pollution has reached epidemic proportions. Plastic riddles the oceans and in the waterways of some less developed countries. Scientists have been researching how they might mitigate this ever-growing concern. Thanks to an accidental creation, though, it looks like this problem can be solved without anyone having to do anything.
A group of international scientists accidentally created a mutant enzyme that breaks down plastic bottles. Instead of the oceans being filled with the plastic that harms wildlife, this enzyme can break down the plastic it comes in contact with in just a matter of days.
According to The Guardian, the formula was discovered in 2016. The team had been modifying previous research and accidentally created the enzyme.
During 2016, the group put the experimental enzyme in a waste dump in Japan and successfully proved that the enzyme can eat plastic. Now, these scientists are releasing the chemical structure of this crucial enzyme so it can be reproduced.
“What actually turned out was we improved the enzyme, which was a bit of a shock,” said Prof John McGeehan. “It’s great and a real finding.”
McGeehan is the professor at the University of Portsmouth who led the research team. McGeehan and his fellow research scientists see this as a viable option to significantly reduce the plastic pollution once it’s in mass production.
“What we are hoping to do is use this enzyme to turn this plastic back into its original components, so we can literally recycle it back to plastic,” McGeehan said. “It means we won’t need to dig up any more oil and, fundamentally, it should reduce the amount of plastic in the environment.”
While most are excited about the new discovery, there were some academic researchers who have some concerns.
Prof Adisa Azapagic at the University of Manchester said: “A full life-cycle assessment would be needed to ensure the technology does not solve one environmental problem – waste – at the expense of others, including additional greenhouse gas emissions.”
While this may not be the final product that fully eradicates plastic pollution, it’s a good start.