Scientists have developed a novel way of converting plastic into something useful that actually helps reduce plastic waste. Researchers at the University of Edinburgh have developed a new technique using which plastic can be converted to vanilla flavouring by genetically engineered E-coli bacteria. The scientists demonstrated the technique by actually converting a plastic bottle into vanillin — vanilla flavouring — by introducing E.coli to degraded plastic waste. According to the scientists, the flavouring produced would be fit for being consumed by humans. However, further tests are required before introducing the vanillin produced from plastic to human food, say scientists. With approximately 50 million tonnes of plastic waste, particularly Polyethylene terephthalate (PET) — the lightweight and strong plastic which is used in packaging and water bottles. PET is derived from crude oil and natural gas, which themselves are non-renewable sources of energy. Recycling PET produces products that continue to add to plastic waste.
On the other hand, the vanilla flavouring vanillin is something that is very high in demand. Widely used in food industries, cosmetics, herbicides, antifoaming agents and cleaning products, the global demand for vanillin in 2018 was more than 37,000 tonnes.
Scientists think that the newly developed technique can be a game-changer in reducing plastic waste. They see the technique as something that overhauls plastic waste as a valuable industrial chemical and has exciting implications.
“Our work challenges the perception of plastic being a problematic waste and instead demonstrates its use as a new carbon resource from which high-value products can be obtained,” says Stephen Wallace, one of the researchers of the study, in a news release by the University of Edinburgh. The study was published in Green Chemistry on June 10.
The new research adds another feather in the cap of Synthetic Biology, a modern field in which scientists redesign microorganisms to efficiently perform desired chemical processes, which makes it powerful in terms of solving real-world problems.