How does recycling using enzymes work?

Enzymatic recycling might offer a new method of recycling water bottles and other plastics, researchers say

February 4, 2021
Enzymatic Recycling
Recycling using enzymes derived from bacteria might provide a new way to deal with some single-use plastic waste. [Credit: Casey Crownhart | CC-BY-SA]

Recycling plastic requires a big team — from people disposing of used plastic containers in the correct bins, to the workers transporting it to recycling plants, to companies using recycled plastics in their products. All these people might soon have a new member on team recycling: bacteria. 

Some researchers and companies are trying to use bacteria to recycle plastics in a new way. The process, called enzymatic recycling, employs enzymes that were initially produced by these bacteria to break down the plastics. Researchers have recently learned more about how these enzymes work, and are developing ways to employ them in commercial recycling programs. 

So, how does enzymatic recycling work? And how is it different from the way we recycle plastics today?

Disclosure: The author was a professional colleague of Dale Handlin in a previous role.

About the Author

Casey Crownhart

Casey writes about the environment, public health, and materials science. When not on deadline, you can find her tending to her small army of houseplants, running, or watching college football.


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