WE DREAM A WORLD FREE
FROM PLASTIC WASTE, AND YOU?

BACKGROUND

Plastic accumulation is one of the environmental plagues of 21st century.

plastic-pe-home

Global plastic consumption has gone from 5.5 million tons in the 1950s to 110 million tons in 2009 (according to the United Nations Environmental Program). In 2017 global plastic production reached almost the 350 million tons (plasticseurope.org), suggesting a trend towards increasing plastic material production. This is occurring despite the huge problem plastic pollution is causing to the environment, and despite the potential risks for human health.

Plastic colonizes and accumulates everywhere, on land and water.

pe-accumulation

The oceans are proof of this huge problem: huge patches of plastic debris have been forming in the oceans. One of the most notorious is the Great Pacific garbage patch. This is a huge area in the Pacific ocean, with a minimum estimated size comparable to the extension of Texas.

plastic_island

The consequences of accumulation of plastic debris, both on land and water, are detrimental for all type of life on the planet, gravely affecting the food chain and, ultimately, the welfare of the human beings.

Disposal of plastic

Today, Americans alone discard about 33.6 million tons of plastic each year, but only 9% percent of it is recycled and 16% percent is combusted in waste-to-energy facilities, which create electricity or heat from garbage, although with a big environmental cost. The rest ends up in landfills where it may take up to 1,000 years to decompose, and potentially leak pollutants into the soil and water.

In Europe, about 30% is recycled, mostly polyethylene (PE) and PET (plastic bags/packaging and plastic bottles, respectively), and about 40% is incinerated.

Ecological and economical motivations pressure to find solution for reducing plastic waste disposal.

How can we get rid of plastic (other than via ecologically costly combustion)?

To answer to this question we need first to know the nature of the compound of interest.

 

Plastics are synthetic polymers. They are divided into two groups, based on the manufacturing process: i) thermoplastics and ii) thermoset plastics. While the latter represents only 8% of the total plastic, the real environmental problem stands with the remaining 92%, that is the thermoplastics.

Polyethylene (PE) is the most common thermoplastics (for example, PE is the plastic used for packaging) with approximately one third of the total plastic production globally.

PE is in general nonsusceptible to degradation by biological agents (e.g. bacteria andfungi), with a very limited extent of biodegradation by microorganisms, in a slow and time-consuming process.

How can we solve the problem?

We have discovered a biological agent that can degrade PE of commonly used plastic bags in a really short time (less than 1 hour)

How does this happen?

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