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UK researchers devise PE decomposition additive

By: Anthony Clark
PLASTICS & RUBBER WEEKLY

May 8, 2013

LONDON — British researchers have developed a polyethylene additive which they claim can break down packaging, including plastic bags.

Advanced Enzyme Science, a London-based polymer technology company, has developed Enzymoplast, which the firm says consists of proteins and enzymes that break down polyethylene "in a natural way".

"In Germany people use something like 70 plastic shopping bags a year, while the European average is as many as 200," said the company. "Worldwide up to a billion plastic bags are produced annually. In principle the use of such plastic bags, like plastic sheeting in agriculture or other products made of polyethylene, is unproblematic — provided that they are re-used whenever possible and afterwards recycled.

"However, this is seldom the case and such materials are often simply dumped, very much to the detriment of the environment because plastic bags and sheeting can take up to 500 years to biodegrade fully. The result is not just that our natural scenery is disfigured, but also that the oceans are polluted to an unimaginable degree. There are already stretches of ocean the size of central Europe full of plastic waste."

According to Advanced Enzyme Science, Enzymoplast triggers a decomposition process when plastic bags containing the additive come into contact with microorganisms.

The microorganisms first devour the proteins, which breaks the polymer chain. It also activates the enzymes, which act as a catalyst and accelerate the process. After a few months only water and CO2 remain, claimed Advanced Enzyme Science.

"Of course we would prefer it if plastics bags were not thrown away in the first place," said Narinder Bharj, CEO of Advanced Enzyme Science. "However, unfortunately that's only theory. And this is why the use of Enzymoplast represents significant progress, both in terms of environmental protection, also for the retail trade and consumers."