Scientists have now developed the first fully biodegradable plastic that can break down in a matter of weeks when exposed to heat and water. They plan to use this specifically for disposable plastics.
A 2015 researcher from the University of Georgia has shown that between 4.8 and 12.7 million metric tons of plastic enter the oceans each year to people living within 30 miles of the coast.
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According to data from 2019 by the Central Pollution Control Board, India alone generates 25,940 tons of plastic waste daily, but collects only 60 percent of it.
To tackle the growing problem of plastic waste, scientists have now decided to include enzymes that eat plastic directly into the plastic itself. This is according to study published in the journal Nature.
Plastic-eating enzymes are built into plastic
Scientists have been able to incorporate polyester-eating enzymes into a special polymer wrapper while developing plastics.
The peculiarity of this wrapper is that this wrapper, when exposed to heat and water, decomposes, allowing the release of enzymes that eat plastic and consume plastic, decomposing them in a few days.
One crucial development was the prevention of the breakdown of polyester-eating enzymes – a common phenomenon when proteins are removed from their home environment. To protect the enzymes, they developed them into molecules called random heteropolymers that hold proteins together, without limiting their natural flexibility.
According to the researchers, these molecules also degrade when exposed to UV light and are present in a concentration of only one weight percent in plastic. These nanoparticles of coated enzymes are incorporated into resin beads that begin plastic production.
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Heat releases enzymes, breaks down plastic in a few days
When heated to 50 degrees Celsius, the modified PLA completely decomposed in just six days. The second variant of the modified plastic with polycaprolactone with lipase enzymes degrades faster, but it took two days at 40 degrees Celsius.
In the second test, heating a plastic sample in warm water, heating to 40 degrees Celsius also resulted in similar degradation, disappearing from the water.
Even more fascinating is that this enzyme-coated plastic does not result in microplastic contaminants after degradation.
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Author and materials scientist Ting Xu of the University of California, Berkeley explains, “People are now ready to switch to disposable biodegradable plastic polymers. But if it turns out to create more problems than it is worth, then politics can go back. “
Xu added, “We basically say we are on the right track. We can solve this continuous problem of disposable plastic that is not biodegradable. ”