Scientists Create World’s First Truly Biodegradable Single-use Plastic That ‘Eats Itself’ in Just 2 Weeks


Despite our efforts to sort and recycle, less than 9% of plastic gets recycled in the U.S., and most ends up in landfill or the environment. Biodegradable plastic bags and containers could help, but if they’re not properly sorted, they can contaminate otherwise recyclable #1 and #2 plastics. What’s worse, most biodegradable plastics take months to break down, and when they finally do, they form microplastics, tiny bits of plastic that can end up in oceans and animals’ bodies, including our own. Now, scientists at the the Berkeley Lab and UC Berkeley have designed an enzyme-activated compostable plastic that could diminish microplastics pollution, and holds great promise for plastics upcycling. The material can be broken down to its building blocks—small individual molecules called monomers—and then reformed into a new compostable plastic product. “In the wild, enzymes are what nature uses to break things down—and even when we die, enzymes cause our bodies to decompose naturally. So for this study, we asked ourselves, ‘How can enzymes biodegrade plastic so it’s part of nature?” said senior author Ting Xu.

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