Researchers at King’s College London have identified an enzyme that is suitable for the rapid recycling of PLA plastic. PLA is often used for 3D printing or disposable packaging. Until now, however, the material has been difficult to recycle.
As the scientists report, a common enzyme, which is also found in detergents, can completely break down PLA within 24 hours with the help of a little heat. This process usually takes several weeks via conventional composting.
The plastic molecules are broken down into their original chemicals. New PLA can be produced from these building blocks – a true circular process.
The discovery has the potential to revolutionize the processing of PLA plastic waste, which is often generated during 3D printing or as food packaging. It is a major step towards solving the global plastic waste problem. The scientists are already considering an application in the recycling of defective 3D printed parts.
The full paper entitled “A general route to retooling hydrolytic enzymes toward plastic degradation” by Susana M. Meza Huaman, Jake H. Nicholson and Alex P.S. Brogan can be read here.