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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

3 hours ago - Health

FDA advisory panel recommends Pfizer boosters for those 65 and older

A healthcare worker prepares a dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech Covid-19 vaccine at the Key Biscayne Community Center on Aug. 24, 2021. Photo: Eva Marie Uzcategui/Bloomberg via Getty Images

A key Food and Drug Administration advisory panel on Friday overwhelmingly voted against recommending Pfizer vaccine booster shots for younger Americans, but unanimously recommended approving the third shots for individuals 65 and older, as well as those at high-risk of severe COVID-19.

Why it matters: While the votes are non-binding, and the FDA must still make a final decision, Friday's move pours cold water on the Biden administration's plan to begin administering boosters to most individuals who received the Pfizer vaccine later this month.

3 hours ago - World

France recalls ambassadors from U.S. and Australia over submarine deal

Secretary of State Antony Blinken (L), French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian (C), and French ambassador to the U.S. Philippe Etienne. Photo: Nicholas Kamm/AFP via Getty Images

France has taken the extraordinary step of recalling its ambassadors to the U.S. and Australia after both countries blindsided their French allies with a new military pact and submarine contract, the French Foreign Ministry announced on Friday.

The backstory: While sealing an agreement with the U.S. and U.K. to acquire nuclear submarines, Australia ripped up an existing $90 billion submarine deal with France. That led senior French officials to accuse the U.S. of a "stab in the back."

Updated 4 hours ago - World

In reversal, Pentagon now says drone strike killed 10 Afghan civilians

Caskets for the dead are carried towards the gravesite as relatives and friends attend a mass funeral for members of a family that is said to have been killed in a U.S. drone airstrike, in Kabul on Aug. 30. Photo: Marcus Yam/Los Angeles Times via Getty Images

A U.S. drone strike launched on Aug. 29 killed 10 civilians in Afghanistan, including seven children, rather than the Islamic State extremists the Biden administration claimed it targeted, the Pentagon said Friday.

Why it matters: U.S. Central Command said at the time that officials "know" the drone strike "disrupted an imminent ISIS-K threat" to Kabul's airport, and that they were "confident we successfully hit the target."