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How laundry-detergent enzymes could ‘revolutionise’ plastic recycling

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Scientists claim to have found a way to rapidly recycle bioplastics from disposable items.

The researchers at King’s College London published a paper on their method of depolymerising landfill-bound waste within 48 hours before creating monomers for reuse.

The innovative system uses enzymes found in many laundry detergents to degrade bioplastic polylactic acid, and then high temperatures to convert the resultant fragments into chemical building blocks.

King’s College said creation of bioplastics, which are derived from natural sources such as corn starch or sugarcane, often competes for land with food-based agriculture. The resultant items often end up in landfill after a single use, it added.

But the scientists claimed the speed of their new method could “revolutionise” the industry and help create a circular economy.

Dr Alex Brogan, lecturer in chemistry at King’s College London, said: “The inspiration for this project came from a problem with bioplastics used in medical and surgical products degrading in the body.

“We’ve turned this around and applied it to the issue of recycling the single-use bioplastics we use in our everyday lives using a common enzyme found in biological laundry detergent.

“Being able to harness biology to deliver sustainable solutions through chemistry allows us to start thinking of waste as a resource so that we can move away from oil and other non-renewable sources to create the materials we need for modern life.”

The scientists are now extending their research into improving the recycling of other commonly used and mass-produced plastics, such as those in single-use water bottles, clothing, and film and sheet packaging.