A newly developed variant of the enzyme PETase is said to be able to break down plastic into its components within hours.
The enzyme PETase, which was discovered in Japan in 2016, has been further developed by a team of researchers at the University of Texas (USA) into FAST-PETase, which is reportedly able to break down plastics made of polyethylene terephthalate (PET) into small pieces in a short time. The process of enzyme-assisted depolymerization produces monomers within hours or days suitable for making new plastics , according to the researchers. The study also showed that the enzyme is able to complete a "cycle process" by breaking the plastic into smaller parts (depolymerization) and then chemically reassembling it (repolymerization), is said. The process could take place at less than 50 degrees Celsius and thus, according to the scientists, has the potential to significantly advance plastics recycling. It could also enable industries to reduce their environmental impact by recovering and reusing plastics at the molecular level. To make industrial application feasible, the production of the enzyme will be scaled up as the research project progresses. The research team has filed a patent application for the technology and says it plans to pursue other applications, including landfill remediation and environmental use to rid polluted areas of plastic.