Scientists at UC Berkley have come up with a way to make compostable plastics break down easier.
The new process involves embedding polyester-eating enzymes in the plastic as it’s made. These enzymes are protected by a simple polymer wrapping that prevents the enzyme from untangling and becoming useless. When exposed to heat and water, the enzyme shrugs off its polymer shroud and starts chomping the plastic polymer into its building blocks — in the case of PLA, reducing it to lactic acid, which can feed the soil microbes in compost. The polymer wrapping also degrades.
The process eliminates microplastics, a byproduct of many chemical degradation processes and a pollutant in its own right. Up to 98% of the plastic made using Xu’s technique degrades into small molecules.
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