Scientists from the University of Leipzig have discovered the PHL7 enzyme in a compost heap that can break down plastic by 90 percent in 16 hours. This substance can also degrade PET containers into terephthalic acid and ethylene glycol, which can then be reused to make new packaging. The results of the study were published in the scientific journal ChemSusChem.
During the work, the researchers identified seven different enzymes in a compost heap in Leipzig and studied them in detail in a series of experiments. University staff added PET to containers with an aqueous solution that contained either PHL7 or LCC (the highest performing enzyme in a previous study). The scientists then measured the amount of plastic decomposed over a specific period of time. It turned out that in 16 hours PHL7 decomposed PET by 90 percent; while LCC managed only 45 percent during this time.
The researchers hope their discovery will allow plastics to be recycled more efficiently.