French startup Carbios has developed a mutated bacterial enzyme that can almost completely digest old plastic bottles in just a few hours—helping turn the material into the chemical building blocks to make new plastic . The company has been working with the enzyme in its factory, but now the idea of digesting plastic is getting a boost from the scientific community: A recent study published in Nature validates that the process works. Unlike standard mechanical recycling, which “downcycles” plastic into a lower-quality material, the enzymatic process makes it possible to recycle a bottle into a material that’s equal in quality to virgin plastic made from fossil fuels. Mechanical recycling, which involves washing, shredding, and melting plastic, “is limited,” says Carbios CEO Martin Stephan. “To make a transparent bottle with that technology, you need a transparent bottle as a feedstock. And you cannot do that infinitely.” After six or seven cycles of recycling, the plastic might only be good enough to use for something like the plastic on the backing of a carpet, and eventually, it will have to be thrown away entirely. [Photo: courtesy Carbios] “At the very end of its life, it will end up in a landfill […]

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