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This Plastic-Eating Enzyme Could Save The Planet From Pollution

By Brian Spaen

Scientists in Japan have created an enzyme that’s able to eat through plastic. That's right: This enzyme might be key in eating through the planet's pollution, including plastic bottles. How does this work? This natural bacteria, formed at recycling centers, is able to digest plastics made from polyethylene terephthalate (PET), and is now able to "chew" through it more efficiently. Findings from American and British scientists were published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences on Monday.

PET has been a common choice for food and beverage packaging. It’s lightweight, can be reused after proper and careful cleaning, and is approved by the FDA. However, if these plastics are thrown away instead of recycled, they can last for centuries before breaking down. Only 25 percent of plastic produced in the United States ends up being recycled.

Since the plastic is cheap to produce, companies have shied away from recycling issues until awareness of the problem has spread in recent years. It’s also led to scientists researching phenomenons like what happened in Japan two years ago. Enzymes are able to eat through the plastic and return it back to the components its made from, which can be recycled back into plastic.