Researchers from the University of Portsmouth are developing a 'plastic-eating' enzyme that has the potential to break down the PET found in clothes waste, thus helping to reduce its environmental impact. Armed with funding from the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council, the team are set to develop a series of enzymes that will break down the polyester found in clothing, particularly in 'fast fashion' brands. Once the polyester is broken down, it will be able to form new polyester, whether its in the form of clothes or other PET-based materials.
Director of the Centre for Enzyme Innovation at the University of Portsmouth, Andy Pickford, explains the process in further detail: “Our research will establish the feasibility of using enzymes to deconstruct the PET in waste textiles into a soup of simple building blocks for conversion back into new polyesters, thus reducing the need to produce virgin PET from fossil-fuel based chemicals. This will enable a circular polyester textiles economy and ultimately reduce our dependence on taking oil and gas out of the ground."
As a result of this process, the plastic-eating enzymes will help to reduce the environmental impact of polyester, making it friendlier to the environment. In the long-term, the researchers hope that they can develop the technology so far that polyester can be recycled "in the same way we use glass or tin cans."
Expanding upon this development, researchers from the University of Manchester have also previously explored how plastic-eating bacteria cells could help to reduce pollution. Much like the researchers from the University of Portsmouth, they made some impressive discoveries.