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Tackling the plastic waste challenge with biotechnology

Every year, almost 350 million tonnes of plastics produced world-wide. The amazing properties of these plastics have made them a cornerstone of our society. However, only a small fraction is recycled, and plastic waste is creating a global pollution crisis. Given this looming environmental catastrophe, new cost-effective process solutions are needed that use collected plastic waste more efficiently, and that incentivize increased rates of plastics reclamation by adding value to this gigantic waste stream.

IBG-1 researchers in the department of Microbial Catalysis will provide one such solution by enabling microbes to feed on broken-down plastic. Recently, enzymes have been discovered that can depolymerize plastics such as PET bottles or PU foams. We can get bacteria such as Pseudomonas putida to efficiently grow on the resulting ‘plastic soup’, thereby establishing plastic waste as a feedstock for all kinds of biotechnological processes. This is a promising new way to add value to trash, especially when working with mixed plastics which are not amenable to traditional recycling. This so-called bio-upcycling, together with the biotechnological production of bio-based plastic monomers, can eventually enable us to close multi-million-tonne carbon cycles and to transition plastics into a bio-based circular economy.

This will be the main focus of the Horizon2020-funded project MIX-UP - "Mixed plastics biodegradation and upcycling using microbial communities," which will start on January 1st 2020. The IBG-1 will be part of a large consortium of 14 partners from four European countries and China, coordinated by the RWTH Aachen university.

Further reading:

Bio-upcycling of plastics waste into valuable chemicalsBio-upcycling of plastics waste into valuable chemicals