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Volume 580 Issue 7802, 9 April 2020

Clearing the bottleneck

Plastic waste is a major environmental issue, with some 200 million tonnes accumulating in landfill or the natural environment each year. One significant contributor to the problem is poly(ethylene terephthalate) (PET), which is widely used to make plastic bottles and is not easy to recycle. In this week’s issue, Alain Marty and his colleagues report that they have engineered an enzyme that at a pilot scale can efficiently break PET down into its monomer constituents. After 10 hours, the team’s PET hydrolase can depolymerize PET by at least 90%. More importantly, the resulting purified monomers have the same properties as those freshly generated from petrochemical feedstocks and so can be reused to make bottles, thereby moving closer to the idea of a circular economy based on PET.

Cover image: Randy Olson/National Geographic

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