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Engineering Bacteria to Eat Plastic

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Plastic pollution

Globally, 359 million tons of plastic waste are generated annually, with some 150-200 million tons accumulating in landfills or in the natural environment.

Jennifer Cochran and her group are working to change these numbers by exploring enzymes capable of depolymerizing plastic waste. This waste can be resynthesized into brand new plastic with the same material properties as plastic made from oil, but at a fraction of the cost.

Existing “mechanical” recycling methods only extend the life cycle of single-use plastics one or two times because the polymer material degrades through the process. In the US and Canada alone, there is a $120 billion addressable market that can be met at least in part by recovering waste plastics; just 6% of real demand for recycled plastics is currently being met in the US and Canada.