Of course, that would be a good thing:
A mutant bacterial enzyme that breaks down plastic bottles for recycling in hours has been created by scientists.
The enzyme, originally discovered in a compost heap of leaves, reduced the bottles to chemical building blocks that were then used to make high-quality new bottles. Existing recycling technologies usually produce plastic only good enough for clothing and carpets.
The company behind the breakthrough, Carbios, said it was aiming for industrial-scale recycling within five years. It has partnered with major companies including Pepsi and L’Oréal to accelerate development. Independent experts called the new enzyme a major advance…[snip]
…“It makes the possibility of true industrial-scale biological recycling of PET a possibility. This is a very large advance in terms of speed, efficiency and heat tolerance,” McGeehan said. “It represents a significant step forward for true circular recycling of PET and has the potential to reduce our reliance on oil, cut carbon emissions and energy use, and incentivise the collection and recycling of waste plastic.”
Scientists are also making progress in finding biological ways to break down other major types of plastic. In March, German researchers revealed a bug that feasts on toxic polyurethane, while earlier work has shown that wax moth larvae – usually bred as fish bait – can eat up polythene bags.
But there is always a hitch:
Waste bottles also have to be ground up and heated before the enzyme is added, so the recycled PET will be more expensive than virgin plastic. But Martin Stephan, the deputy chief executive at Carbios, said existing lower-quality recycled plastic sells at a premium due to a shortage of supply.
And you can be sure as long as recycled plastic is more expensive to make (and buy) than virgin plastic, recycled plastic will struggle.
In fact, this is the sort of scientific discovery that reveals that there really are no technological silver bullets (and why breathless reporting on them is actually harmful). What really needs to happen is that governments need to take the initiative to re-price plastic, so that its cost better reflects the environmental impact it inflicts on our health and on the oceans, which will also make recycled plastic more competitive. If that happened, both manufacturers and consumers would get a lot more careful about making, marketing and using plastic.
Pricing social, health and environmental impacts into all sorts of products is the one silver bullet that really could change what is made, how it is made, and what is purchased, and start to slow the relentless pollution and destruction that results from rampant consumption and worshipping the God Of Convenience. That is the real breakthrough we should all demand.