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Carbios has developed specialized enzymes that can recycle plastics. Photo: Carbios

A French startup has pioneered a new way of using enzymes to recycle plastics more efficiently than current methods.

Why it matters: Existing recycling procedures for many plastics downgrade the material, only staving off the day in which it will end up in a landfill. A method that could fully recycle plastics would be a game-changer.

Of the roughly 359 million tons of plastics produced each year worldwide, more than half ends up in a landfill or the natural environment.

  • Part of the reason such a small percentage of plastics is recycled is that the material tends to degrade during the current recycling process. What remains can often only be used for low-value products.
  • This is especially true for the most abundant form of plastics, PET, which is used in bottles and packaging.

The startup Carbios, founded in 2011, has discovered enzymes that can break down a plastic bottle in a matter of hours, producing leftover material good enough to reconstitute into new bottles.

How it works: The company analyzed tens of thousands of different enzymes found in environments polluted by PET. One enzyme, found in a heap of leaf compost, proved capable of reducing a PET bottle into chemical building blocks that could be used to make new, high-quality plastic bottles.

  • Carbios is working on a demonstration plant south of Lyon, France, and if the work goes well, it expects to license the first commercial plant using its technology by 2024 or 2025.
"There is such a high demand for recycled plastic that we won't be able to meet the goals set by regulators and big brands without the introduction of new technology like this."
— Martin Stephan, Carbios deputy CEO

Yes, but: Like all new technologies, the key will be ensuring the process makes economic sense for recyclers at the commercial level.

Go deeper: Big Oil doubles down on recycling

Go deeper

Updated 3 hours ago - Politics & Policy

Coronavirus dashboard

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

  1. Health: WHO: AstraZeneca vaccine must be evaluated on "more than a press release."
  2. Politics: McConnell temporarily halts in-person lunches for GOP caucus.
  3. Economy: Safety nets to disappear in DecemberAmazon hires 1,400 workers a day throughout pandemic.
  4. Education: U.S. public school enrollment drops as pandemic persists.
  5. Cities: Surge in cases forces San Francisco to impose curfew — Los Angeles County issues stay-at-home order, limits gatherings.
  6. Sports: NFL bans in-person team activities Monday, Tuesday due to COVID-19 surge — NBA announces new coronavirus protocols.
  7. World: London police arrest more than 150 during anti-lockdown protests — Thailand, Philippines sign deal with AstraZeneca for vaccine.

Tony Hsieh, longtime Zappos CEO, dies at 46

Tony Hsieh. Photo: FilmMagic/FilmMagic

Tony Hsieh, the longtime ex-chief executive of Zappos, died on Friday after being injured in a house fire, his lawyer told the Las Vegas Review-Journal. He was 46.

The big picture: Hsieh was known for his unique approach to management, and following the 2008 recession his ongoing investment and efforts to revitalize the downtown Las Vegas area.

Dan Primack, author of Pro Rata
15 hours ago - Economy & Business

The unicorn stampede is coming

Illustration: Annelise Capossela/Axios

Airbnb and DoorDash plan to go public in the next few weeks, capping off a very busy year for IPOs.

What's next: You ain't seen nothing yet.