PET, or polyethylene terephthalate, is a commonly used plastic invented in the 1940’s. It is a polymer made up of the monomers, terephthalic acid and ethylene glycol. Most disposable beverage bottles and other plastic products are made from PET due to it’s ability to withstand biodegradation. PET plastic products can easily be recycled and be reused as carpet fibers, clothing, or other products. However, most plastic products never make their way to a recycling station due to the lack of infrastructure or the sheer will to recycle. Left to their own devices, PET take over five years to breakdown. Think about all those water bottles…
Recently researchers from Japan discovered a bacteria, Ideonella sakaiensis, that degrades PET back to it’s environmentally benign monomers, terephthalic acid and ethylene glycol, with just two enzymes. This process takes six weeks but researchers hope that with some genetic tweaking they might be able to speed up the process. Isn’t it amazing/unsettling that a biological organism has evolved the ability to essentially “eat” a man-made product?
About the Illustration: Micron pens and brush markers-my interpretation of Ideonella sakaiensis in a bottle.