Scientists convert recycled plastic into vanilla flavouring

This is the first time a valuable chemical has been brewed from plastic waste

The latest scientific development in plastic recycling could be the key to solving the global plastic pollution problem.

Researchers had already engineered mutant enzymes to break down the polymer used for drinks bottles into its basic units of terephthalic acid (TA). Now, a team of scientists from the University of Edinburgh have used genetically engineered bacteria to convert TA into vanillin.

Vanillin is an important bulk chemical used to make pharmaceuticals, cleaning products and herbicides. Global demand far outweighs the supply from natural vanilla beans, and currently, 85% of vanillin is synthesised from chemicals derived from fossil fuels.

Joanna Sadler, who conducted the new work, said: “This is the first example of using a biological system to upcycle plastic waste into a valuable industrial chemical and it has very exciting implications for the circular economy.”

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