Apr 18, 2020 - Energy & Environment

A better way to recycle plastic

Bryan Walsh, author of Future

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

Updates: George Floyd protests continue past curfews

Police officers wearing riot gear push back demonstrators outside of the White House on Monday. Photo: Jose Luis Magana/AFP via Getty Images

Protests over the death of George Floyd and other police-related killings of black people continued Tuesday across the U.S. for the eighth consecutive day — prompting a federal response from the National Guard, Immigration and Customs Enforcement and Customs and Border Protection.

The latest: Protesters were still out en masse even as curfews set in Washington, D.C., and New York City. Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) slammed the New York Police Department late Tuesday following reports of police kettling in protesters on Manhattan Bridge.

Primary elections test impact of protests, coronavirus on voting

Election official at a polling place at McKinley Technology High School in Washington, D.C. Photo: Drew Angerer/Getty Images

In the midst of a global pandemic and national protests over the death of George Floyd, eight states and the District of Columbia held primary elections on Tuesday.

Why it matters: Joe Biden, the presumptive Democratic nominee, needs to win 425 of the 479 delegates up for grabs in order to officially clinch the nomination. There are a number of key down-ballot races throughout the country as well, including a primary in Iowa that could determine the fate of Rep. Steve King (R-Iowa).

Iowa Rep. Steve King defeated in GOP primary

Rep. Steve King. Photo: Alex Wroblewski/Getty Images

State Sen. Randy Feenstra defeated incumbent Rep. Steve King in Tuesday's Republican primary for Iowa's 4th congressional district, according to the Cook Political Report.

Why it matters: King's history of racist remarks has made him one of the most controversial politicians in the country and a pariah within the Republican Party.