Scientists at the University of Edinburgh have devised a new way to tackle the growing problem of plastic pollution, using bacteria to turn plastic waste into vanilla flavor.
The study , published in the journal “Green Chemistry”, revealed that researchers discovered that the common bacteria Escherichia coli can be used to convert post-consumer plastic into vanillin. Read also A recent study: Silica is the best alternative to banned plastic granules Does seaweed provide a sustainable solution to plastic pollution? The monster we don’t see with our eyes… billions of microscopic plastic particles A recent study: Fish swallowed micro plastics for 70 years
Experts say turning plastic into vanillin could boost the concept of waste recycling and a recycling economy, which aims to eliminate waste and keep products and materials in use.
The statement says that this discovery has positive implications for synthetic biology, as the vanillin produced will be suitable for human consumption, but further experimental testing is required.
On the other hand, the statement said that vanillin is widely used in the food and cosmetic industries, as well as in the manufacture of herbicides, anti-foaming agents and cleaning products.
The global demand for vanillin exceeded 37 thousand tons in 2018.
According to the statement issued by the university, the world had witnessed a complex crisis with plastic and the disposal of its waste, which led to the urgent need to develop new methods of recycling “polyethylene terephthalate” (PET).
It is a strong, lightweight plastic derived from non-renewable materials such as oil and gas, and is used to manufacture a type of synthetic textile fiber, water bottles, cans of food and other liquids, and in thermoplastic forming applications, and is a binder for glass fibers in engineering materials.
The statement stated that approximately 50 million tons of polyethylene terephthalate waste are produced annually in the world, which causes very serious economic and environmental impacts. However recycling of waste PET is possible, but current processes produce products that continue to contribute to plastic pollution worldwide.
A delicious solution to the plastic crisis
The university statement described its scientists’ discovery as offering a delicious solution to the global plastic crisis, as scientists used coliform bacteria to convert terephthalic acid – a molecule derived from polyethylene terephthalate – into a valuable compound vanillin, through a series of chemical reactions.
The team has also shown how this technique works by converting a used plastic bottle into vanillin by adding E. coli to degraded plastic waste.
Escherichia coli, also known as the large intestine, is one of the most important types of bacteria that live in the intestines of healthy humans and warm-blooded animals. Most types of E. coli are harmless, or cause diarrhea for a relatively short period.
green chemistry model
“This is the first example of using a biological system to recycle plastic waste into a valuable industrial chemical,” said Joanna Sadler, from the University of Edinburgh’s School of Biological Sciences and first author of the study.
“This has exciting implications for the circular economy, an economic system that aims to eliminate waste and the continuous use of resources, as our research findings have significant implications for the sustainability of plastics, and demonstrate the power of synthetic biology to address real-world challenges,” she added.
Dr Stephen Wallace, one of the researchers on the study, said: “Our work challenges the perception of plastic as a problematic waste and instead demonstrates its use as a new carbon source from which high-value products can be obtained.”