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Plastic that degrades only after it's sprayed with a specific enzyme

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Darko Savic
Darko Savic Nov 18, 2021
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Biodegradable plastic that begins to degrade when sprayed with a special enzyme. Start the degradation process only after the plastic is no longer needed.
Why?
  • Biodegradable plastic leaves no trace in nature.
  • Biodegradable plastic products shouldn't degrade while people still need them. However, they should rapidly degrade after being discarded.
How it works
I imagine there are several ways of going about this:
  1. Production on the spot; Genetically modified microorganisms that secrete a unique enzyme when in contact with such plastic in order to convert it to food. They should be made dependent on the plastic and die off when there is none around.
  2. Production in the lab; Preserved enzymes that have been isolated from the above mentioned microorganisms in the lab, in large quantities. With this option, how do we start a chain reaction that degrades all of the plastic?
The enzyme/microorganism should be rarely found in nature so that the bioplastic doesn't degrade by accident. It should be durable as long as people need it.
The enzymes could be stored in dry/tablet form that you activate in water before spraying. As such it can be stored for long periods of time.
Use case scenarios:
  • A few weeks worth of bioplastic shopping bags has piled up in your drawer. Come cleaning day, you take them out in the garden, spray them and put some dirt over them. A few days later they are completely gone.
  • A city's trash collection bags are made of bioplastic. A huge pile of them accumulates after a while. They spray the pile with an industrial spraying drone and it starts to degrade.
  • If all the plastic was made from enzyme degradable bioplastic, people could have a metal bin where they collect and squirt in some spray each time they add something to the bin.
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Creative contributions

Similar technology has been recently developed

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Povilas S
Povilas S Nov 18, 2021
Here you can read about similar enzyme-biodegradable plastic developed by US scientists. Instead of using an enzyme spray, the enzymes were integrated into the plastic itself and protected from damage by "wrapping" them in a layer of specialized coating. The enzymes get activated when certain environmental conditions are present, more particularly a certain level of heat and humidity. Until then they are not degrading the plastic.
I understand your approach is different, it seems more instant and user-friendly, I'm not sure why the mentioned scientists chose to implement enzymes into the plastic itself instead of applying them externally to the plastic by spraying or other means. But my guess would be that when you implement the enzymes at the molecular level, the extent to which they degrade the plastic is way higher compared to external application, also, perhaps that's why the enzymes were additionally protected from the environmental influence, this is done in order not to degrade the enzymes themselves as they are sensitive to the temperature and other environmental factors. If you sprayed the enzymes they would be exposed to the environment and might get broken down before they can do any damage to the plastic.
The article also talks about future possibilities of making plastic with programmed biodegradability. Maybe the enzymes could have an implemented molecular timer or somehow be activated remotely by a switch of a button.
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