What naturally breaks down plastic?

Why plastic decomposes

Did you know that plastic was invented for conservation purposes? The idea was to find a material to replace ivory. To obtain it, thousands of elephants were killed to make, for example, billiard balls.

As plastic turned out to be much more resistant and stable, we humans became addicted to it. To this day, we have gone from producing just over one million tons in 1950 to more than 350 million tons today!

One of the most widely used plastics is polypropylene.  It consists of very long chains of carbon and hydrogen atoms. It takes a lot of energy to form these bonds. Very strong bonds are generated, which cannot be broken by bacterial and animal enzymes.

Let’s think of alternatives to reduce our plastic consumption: Can you imagine a water bottle that instead of polluting you could even drink? Let’s prepare biodegradable and edible water containers!

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Following in the wake of this enzyme, scientists from different countries (United Kingdom, United States, Brazil and China, among others) are studying its structure to replicate its mechanisms. This is the case of an experiment carried out by researchers from the University of Portsmouth (UK) and the US Department of Energy, who have managed to optimize the decomposition of plastic (up to 10% faster) by mutating this enzyme. A further step would be to transplant this mutant enzyme into bacteria, capable of surviving temperatures of up to 70°C, when PET becomes viscous and dissolves faster.

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The revolutionary potential of these experiments lies in the fact that all living things contain enzymes that serve to accelerate chemical reactions that occur in their respective organisms, such as digesting food. Furthermore, the fact that the PETase enzyme can digest PET plastic is very relevant in environmental terms, since this type of plastic is one of the main sources of pollution.

What effects does plastic decomposition cause?

Inorganic waste represents a fundamental problem: it does not degrade easily in nature. If we know how long it takes for some of the materials we throw away every day to disappear, we will better understand the importance of recycling them.

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Inorganic waste is waste that does not come from biological sources. They are, however, products obtained by industrial processes. The degradation time of inorganic waste, when it is deposited in the natural environment, is so long that it is vital to promote initiatives to raise public awareness of the importance of disposing of inorganic waste correctly. If you want to know how long it takes for chewing gum to degrade or how long it takes the Earth to dispose of a plastic bottle, read on.

How plastics can fragment and remain in the environment for hundreds of years

Following in the wake of this enzyme, scientists from different countries (United Kingdom, United States, Brazil and China, among others) are studying its structure to replicate its mechanisms. This is the case of an experiment carried out by researchers from the University of Portsmouth (UK) and the US Department of Energy, who have managed to optimize the decomposition of plastic (up to 10% faster) by mutating this enzyme. A further step would be to transplant this mutant enzyme into bacteria, capable of surviving temperatures of up to 70°C, when PET becomes viscous and dissolves faster.

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The revolutionary potential of these experiments lies in the fact that all living things contain enzymes that serve to accelerate chemical reactions that occur in their respective organisms, such as digesting food. Furthermore, the fact that the PETase enzyme can digest PET plastic is very relevant in environmental terms, since this type of plastic is one of the main sources of pollution.