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Plastic eating enzymes could provide solution to America's waste problem

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Posted at 9:17 AM, May 09, 2022

The Justice Department is launching a new effort to tackle environmental inequities. This follows a government report that found Black and Latino Americans live near more smog and pollution due to housing discrimination.

All attorneys general offices across the country will be required to designate an environmental justice coordinator.

They'll be in charge of education and training for staff to help solve cases that violate federal environmental laws.

Right now, more than 30 million tons of plastic waste are sitting in American landfills. Those plastics take hundreds of years to break down naturally.

A scientific breakthrough could help clean it up much faster.

Plastic eating enzymes can break down certain plastics in hours instead of centuries. It's a simple process.

The plastics are put into a container filled with enzyme solution. The enzyme breaks down the plastic in a matter of hours.

“We are able to take that plastic waste and get it to disappear,” said Hal Alper, a researcher at the University of Texas.

The process has become much more efficient in the last few years. The newest enzymes can break down plastic at relatively low temperatures.

That means they can be transported and used on a large scale. One of the main challenges is figuring out how to break down dirty plastic containers.

“This is not going to be nice, pretty, pristine washed plastic,” Alper said. “This is going to be the gunk that is sitting in the recycling bin, that has food residues on it, other types of residues.”

The technology remains several years away from landfill use. but it is expected to be a game-changer.

One study claims the enzymes will cut emissions from plastic facilities without raising the cost of production.