Good news for our Earth: Scientists from the University of Edinburgh, United Kingdom, found a way to turn plastic bottles into a vanilla flavoring compound, thus providing an effective and useful solution to the overwhelming problem of plastic waste in landfills and oceans.
“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,” says Joanna Sadler who conducted the research.
A genetically engineered E Coli bacteria convert a bottle’s basic units called terephthalic acid (TA) into vanillin. In the style of beer brewing, a microbial liquid is brought to 37 degrees Celsius a day, and the mixture allows to convert 79% of the TA into vanillin. The world’s demand for vanillin is huge – as it’s widely used for food, cosmetics, cleaning products, and even herbicides and pharmaceuticals – and about 85% of vanillin is presently synthesized from fossil fuels. Given that one million plastic bottles are sold every minute around the world and that only 14% of them are recycled, this bacterial solution has the potential to solve the waste problem of the bottle, the second most common type of plastic pollution, while satisfying the world’s demand in vanillin.