Scientists use bacteria to transform plastic waste into vanilla flavouring – Totally Vegan Buzz

Scientists use bacteria to transform plastic waste into vanilla flavouring

Turkey to ban UK plastic waste imports after Greenpeace investigation reveals 'illegal' trash on roadside
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“Using microbes to turn waste plastics, which are harmful to the environment, into an important commodity and platform molecule with broad applications in cosmetics and food is a beautiful demonstration of green chemistry.”

Scientists have developed a novel way to convert plastic bottles into vanilla flavouring using genetically engineered bacteria.

According to the researchers, this process can potentially help tackle plastic pollution and move towards a more circular economy since it marks the first “biological upcycling of post-consumer plastic waste into vanillin.” 

The new method can also become a strong economic incentive since plastics lose around 95% of their value as a material after a single-use. Moreover, the Guardian reports that only 14% of the 1m plastic bottles sold every minute are recycled with limited applications for the resulting material.

The research, published in the journal Green Chemistry, used engineered E coli bacteria to help biodegrade polyethylene terephthalate polymer (PET) plastics into vanillin –  which otherwise comes from the extract of vanilla beans or is synthetically manufactured from fossil fuels.

Vanillin is a lucrative chemical widely used in the food and cosmetics industry as well as in the formulation of pharmaceuticals, herbicides, antifoaming agents and cleaning products.

Demand for the chemical is also growing rapidly, with its market estimated to reach $724.5 million by 2025.

‘Work towards a circular economy’

First author Joanna Sadler, of the University of Edinburgh, said: “This is the first example of using a biological system to upcycle plastic waste into a valuable industrial chemical and it has very exciting implications for the circular economy.”

Her colleague and principal investigator Dr Stephen Wallace added: “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.”

While the current process converted 79% of the plastic polymer into vanillin, the team is working to increase the conversion rate further.

Commenting on the new findings, Dr Ellis Crawford publishing editor at the Royal Society of Chemistry said: “This is a really interesting use of microbial science at the molecular level to improve sustainability and work towards a circular economy.

 “Using microbes to turn waste plastics, which are harmful to the environment, into an important commodity and platform molecule with broad applications in cosmetics and food is a beautiful demonstration of green chemistry.”

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