PETase - Credit: Martin Künsting/HZB
(Photo Credit: Martin Künsting/HZB)

The global environmental crisis created by our dependence on plastic isn’t going away anytime soon. However, a new super-enzyme could help reduce its damaging effects on the environment. A team of scientists have re-engineered the plastic-consuming enzyme into a cocktail that digests plastic up to six times faster.

In 2016, Japanese researchers discovered PETase, a rubbish dwelling bacterium that digests PET. PET (or polyethylene terephthalate) is the most common thermoplastic in use today. Scientists believe this bacterium naturally evolved, enabling it to digest PET plastics back down into its original building blocks so it can be reused. Another enzyme called MHETase, has now been combined with PETase and has created a “super-enzyme”. The combination is capable of increasing the speed of the breakdown by six times that of using PETase alone. Between the two bacterium, researchers found that plastics can potentially be transformed into a renewable resource through endless creation and reuse.

While most PET (used to make single-use drink bottles, clothing, carpet and much more) can take hundreds of years to break down, this new cocktail of enzymes could shorten the time to days. A breakthrough of this magnitude would be a giant leap forward in finding more sustainable solutions to handle plastic waste.

As wonderful as these breakthroughs could be, the most sustainable solution to the problem of single-use plastic is to break our reliance. Technologies exist today to provide refill stations at your favorite store, but retailers don’t believe we want them. Join the over 73,000 who have signed our petition to prove them wrong! Help us send the message that #WeWantRefill!