According to the study published in Green Chemistry This is the first time that researchers have made a “valuable” chemical compound from plastic waste, reports Damian Carrington on The Guardian.
For her part, the author of the study, Joanna Sadler, a biochemist at the University of Edinburgh, says in a statement: “This is the first example of using a biological system to recycle plastic waste into a valuable industrial chemical. and it has very interesting implications for the circular economy ”.
A worker classifies plastic waste before transforming it into raw material at a waste bank in Banda Aceh, Indonesia (Reference photo: EFE / Hotli Simanjuntak)
Transformation of plastic waste into vanilla
The implication of this discovery is that vanilla has a market value that is expected to reach $ 724.5 million in 2025 as demand increases rapidly. The team says it aimed to develop a way to deal with “recycled polyethylene terephthalate,” or PET, which is a strong, lightweight plastic that producers make from non-renewable materials like oil and gas.
To convert plastic waste into vanillin, an organic compound naturally found in vanilla beans, the scientists used Escherichia coli, a bacterium known to produce a powerful toxin that damages the lining of the small intestine. After genetically manipulating the E. coli , scientists used it to transform health-damaging acid into vanillin.
Vanillin is what gives vanilla its distinctive sweet aroma and powerful flavor. It is found in various items, including dairy, soft drinks, and cosmetics (Photo credit: pubs.rsc.org)
“This is the first example of using a biological system to recycle plastic waste into a valuable industrial chemical and this has very interesting implications for the circular economy,” said Joanna Sadler. “The results of our research have important implications for the field of sustainability of plastics and demonstrate the power of synthetic biology to address real world challenges, “he added.
Scientists believe that their vanillin produced from plastic waste probably fit for human consumption, but more studies are needed. Even if this type of vanillin turns out to be unfit for consumption, other industries could still use it.
The cosmetic industry, for example, uses vanillin in its products. So do cleaning product companies and herbicide manufacturers.