University of Portsmouth

A new enzyme to help plastic bottles break down faster

Plastic pollution is reaching crisis level. Of the one million plastic bottles sold every minute across the globe, only 14% are recycled.

A huge part of the problem is the strong plastic used in drinks bottles: polyethylene terephthalate (PET). It currently takes hundreds of years for PET to break down naturally in the environment.

But now a team, led by the University of Portsmouth's Professor John McGeehan and Dr Gregg Beckham of the US Department of Energy, has created a new mutant enzyme that breaks down plastic bottles faster.

Their modified version of the PETase enzyme – first discovered in a Japanese waste dump in 2016 – starts breaking down plastic in days. The discovery could revolutionise the recycling process and help solve one of the planet’s biggest environmental issues.

A patent for the enzyme has been filed, and now Professor McGeehan and team are working on improving it for industrial use, as a sustainable recycling solution.

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