Having talked about the negatives and the dark for a while now, let there be light! Yes, in this section today, we would talk about an exciting discovery that has the potential to successfully combat the growing dominance of PET bottles and plastic bottle pollution. The history of human advancement has been decorated by some sudden, unexpected, and revolutionary discoveries, and this might be another moment. Though it seems modest to the eye with the respect to the class of discoveries we pointed to in the sentence before; considering plastic’s devilish ability to devour life in its entirety and cause global extinction, this is a feat that should be more celebrated than many scientific researches we have had in recent times.
The Source of the Light The light is in life science. A research, published in the Proceedings of Natural Academy of Sciences, proclaims to have created a substance that can ‘eat’ plastic and hence solves the global menace of plastic pollution! The elixir of this magic soup or magic substance stems from an enzyme—biological catalysts—first produced by a type of bacteria residing in a Japanese recycling centre. Bacteria are famous or infamous, the way you think it to be, for their capability of fast evolution and adaptation against surrounding adversities. While this is a curse for the antibiotic industry, in this case, it has certainly become a boon. Astounding as it might sound, these bacteria in the Japanese recycling centre, have evolved themselves to harbour an enzyme that can eat or degrade plastic items!
Finally Plastic Bows Down! Named as PETase for its ability to breakdown PET plastic used in commonly used plastic bottles, the enzyme has accelerated a plastic degradation process that takes hundreds and thousands of years. Simply put, these biocatalysts have become the catalysts to break down the degradation reaction of plastics. While verifying the effect of the enzyme, the research team accidently created a super powerful version of the same enzyme and working diligently for quite a period of time, has finally managed to fine tune the enzyme in such a way that it can digest plastic more efficiently than any other substance found in nature. Accidental discovery, again, has shown humanity a way to transcend seemingly closed boundaries and provide a breath of fresh air. Though breaking down of plastic items can produce microplastics that can be much more harmful, scientists opine that these new PETase-based substances could help recycle millions of tonnes of plastic bottles per year which is no less than a magnanimous feat. Plastic, infamous for being highly resistant to natural degradation, has finally bowed down to the intelligence of life itself!
A Promise to Rewrite our Fate! This is only the first step and there is a long way to go. The research team estimates there is still time before the enzymes can go into mass production to drive the plastic recycling industry. In that period, they would be able to improve these enzymes much more and enhance their capabilities to degrade the gigantic volume of plastics everywhere on the planet. When plastics were first invented in the first half of the twentieth century, little did people have the notion that what could happen to our world due to the seemingly harmless plastic bottles and the plastic items. They had no idea that plastic bottle pollution and plastic pollution as a whole would thwart the very existence of humanity and the world itself few decades later. But, there is always light at the end of a long, dark tunnel. Mass awareness of plastic’s global notoriety and researchers’ day in and day out efforts all over the world to combat these devils have finally bore some fruit. Times and tides change, and exciting times lay ahead of us. We have two clear options—either board the ship that is bound to sink—continue using plastics and lead us to extinction, or catch the vehicle to survive this menace —individually contribute against plastic usage in any way possible and avoid ours and our planet’s untimely death.
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