Scientists in the US have created the first truly biodegradable plastics that break down within a few weeks when exposed to heat and water in an attempt to reduce plastic pollution. The existing ‘compostable’ plastics are made of a polyester called polylactic acid and they do not actually break down during the composting plastic. Bur with this newly developed plastic, scientists have actually embedded polyester-eating enzymes, enclosed in a special polymer wrapping into the polyester plastic during the process of making them, which when exposed to heat and water end up releasing the enzymes that ensure the breakdown of the plastic into its particulars. The plastic is turned into lactic acid by the enzymes involved, and that can be used to enrich soil microbes.
The enzyme wrappers also breakdown under under ultraviolet radiations, the researchers said.
The researchers also assured that this particular plastic does not produce microplastics and almost 98 percent of it degrades into small molecules., Daily Mail reported.
Paper author and materials scientist Ting Xu of the University of California Berkeley said, “People are now prepared to move into biodegradable polymers for single-use plastics. But if it turns out that it creates more problems than it’s worth, then the policy might revert back. We are basically saying that we are on the right track. We can solve this continuing problem of single-use plastics not being biodegradable."
The normal plastic, while convenient when using for daily purposes, is designed to not break down and thus creates problems while discarding them as it increased plastic pollution. Professor Xu and her colleagues thus decided to add the enzymes to the plastic which will essentially help to resolve the problem. Also, the important part of the researchers’ job was to ensure the enzymes do not fall apart, which is what proteins do when separated from their home environment.
The research team is also looking for a way where the plastic breakdown can be stopped midway in order to allow for the material to be reused/re-melted for other purposes.
“It is good for millennials to think about this and start a conversation that will change the way we interface with Earth," Professor Xu was quoted as saying. The detailed findings of the research were published in the journal Nature.