Polymer recycling using microbes
John A. Glaser
Published online: 31 July 2017
Ó Springer-Verlag GmbH Germany (outside the USA) 2017
Plastics are globally consumed at a pace of some 311
million tons per year with 90% having a petroleum origin.
Remarkable quantities of packaging plastics are recycled
though low. Packaging is the dominating application for
these plastics. As an example, beverage bottles constitutes
less than 15% of recycle collection. Generally, plastics
degrade in the environment very slowly resulting in major
environmental concerns for the proper and sustainable
recycling and disposition of such massive amounts of these
rather durable organic polymers. There is an increasing
collection of technologies and new material sources under
development that could provide solutions to current dis-
posal problems of plastics.
A recent discovery of microbial activity capable of
complete degradation of widely used beverage bottle
plastic expands the range of technology options applicable
to plastic disposal. This new research shows that a
microorganism isolated from the area adjacent to a plastic
bottle-recycling facility can degrade the plastic into small
molecular constituents. Poly(ethylene terephthalate) (PET)
is a robust organic polymer having a multitude of appli-
cation ranging from textiles to packaging materials and is
the major polymer employed in beverage bottle manufac-
ture. The environmental accumulation of PET is a testa-
ment of its versatility and the lack of chemical/physical
mechanisms capable of attacking its structural integrity.
This new research shows that a newly isolated microbial
species, Ideonella sakaiensis 201-F6, degrades PET
through hydrolytic transformations by the action of two
enzymes, which are extracellular and intracellular hydro-
lases. A primary hydrolysis reaction intermediate, mono
(hydroxy-2-ethyl) terephthalate is formed and can be sub-
sequently degraded to ethylene glycol and terephthalic acid
which can be utilized by the microorganism for growth.
Disclaimer: The views expressed in this article are those of the author
and do not necessarily represent the views or policies of the U.S.
Environmental Protection Agency.
& John A. Glaser
US Environmental Protection Agency, National Risk
Management Research, Laboratory, 26 W King Dr,
Cincinnati, OH 45268, USA
Clean Techn Environ Policy (2017) 19:1817–1823