Enzymes have been used to speed up the process of degrading materials for years. It appears that this isn’t enough though. We are producing over 300 million tons of plastic waste per year and well over half of that just sits in landfills.
A majority of plastic isn’t recycled. Only 10% of the world’s plastic waste actually ends up being recycled. Plastic waste is normally burnt at a landfill, but this produces toxic chemicals and is very expensive. Sometimes alternative methods, like pyrolysis, glycolysis, and methanolysis, are used. These methods are somewhat expensive too. All of these methods cause additional pollution too.
In addition, these disposal techniques aren’t sustainable. We know this because we gain more plastic waste than we get rid of. Landfills keep filling up, and human consumption shows no signs of stopping.
The Future of Plastic Waste
Many believe that enzymes are the future of waste disposal and recycling. They break down the plastic to its natural components and it’s a lot more affordable than other methods of deteriorating waste.
Special enzymes have even been developed to target polyethylene teraphythalate, also known as PET. PET makes up a large portion of the materials found in plastic and textiles. This enzyme could literally eat through billions of tons of waste.
This enzyme has already been testing on 50 different types of plastic. Researchers have found that the enzyme works at below 50 degrees and breaks some plastics down in as little as 24 hours.
Discovered by researchers in the University of Texas, this newly discovered enzyme could be the end of our waste problem. It’s ability to work at lower temperatures makes it versatile too. Piles of rubbish will typically hold in heat itself. Since the newly discovered enzyme can work at such low temperatures, there doesn’t need to be a power or heat source to keep it working.
Dealing with Plastic Waste
In the meantime, until enzymes are widely used at landfills, standard procedures can be taken to reduce the amount of plastic waste we throw into the environment. Environmentally conscious countries all have recycling programs. These programs sort different types of plastic and prepare them for reuse.
See The Most Difficult Materials To Recycle and How To Avoid Them for other troublesome waste disposal items.
This isn’t always the best options though. These recycled plastics are usually made into products of lesser size and value, and they can only be recycled one time in most cases. However, as individuals, we can steer away from plastic products and choose reusable metal or glass containers instead.