News Release

Turning trash into treasure: breakthrough innovations in PET plastic upcycling

Peer-Reviewed Publication

Nanjing Institute of Environmental Sciences, MEE

Microbial metabolism of TPA for upcycling conversion.


 Microbial metabolism of TPA for upcycling conversion. 

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Credit: Eco-Environment & Health

A recent review has unveiled revolutionary methods to recycle and transform everyday polyethylene terephthalate (PET) plastic into valuable materials. By harnessing cutting-edge enzymes and catalysts, the review dramatically improves how we break down and reuse PET, slashing energy use and emissions. These game-changing techniques are poised to redefine plastic waste management and boost the circular economy.

Polyethylene terephthalate (PET) plastic into valuable materials. By harnessing cutting-edge PET, a prevalent form of plastic, poses significant environmental risks due to its durability and resistance to natural degradation. Traditional recycling methods often result in inferior-quality materials, prompting the need for innovative recycling and upcycling methods that maintain material integrity and add value.

A new paper (DOI: 10.1016/j.eehl.2024.01.010) published in Eco-Environment & Health on 27 February 2024, introduces innovative biotic and abiotic methods for recycling and upcycling PET. The review delves into sustainable strategies that improve the processing and utility of PET waste.

This review introduces a transformative approach to PET waste management by integrating. By utilizing a dual strategy that combines microbial and chemical catalysis, the review has successfully developed methods to depolymerize PET into basic monomers such as terephthalic acid and ethylene glycol. These monomers can either be repurposed to create new PET with properties comparable to virgin materials or further converted into high-value products like muconic acid, vanillin, and adipic acid. This is achieved through innovative catalytic techniques including enzymatic breakdown using genetically engineered microbes and advanced photo and electrocatalysis. These methods not only enhance the recycling efficiency but also enable the upcycling of PET into diverse, economically valuable products. The review highlights significant reductions in energy usage and greenhouse gas emissions, making it a pivotal contribution to sustainable industrial practices.

Professor Zhiling Li, co-author of the review, states, "Our work not only improves PET recycling efficiency but also transforms waste into valuable products, thus contributing to a circular economy. The combined biotic and abiotic approaches open new pathways for environmental sustainability."

The implications of this review are profound, offering industries a way to turn PET waste into a resource. For example, upcycled PET can be used to produce textiles, packaging materials, and even chemicals for various applications, reducing reliance on virgin resources and minimizing waste.





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Funding information

This review was supported by China Postdoctoral Science Foundation (No. 2023M730856), the Launch of Doctoral Basic Research Program in Shenzhen (No. RCBS20221008093129082), the NSFC program (No. 22306048), and the NSFC-JSPS Program (No. 51961145202).

About Eco-Environment & Health (EEH)

Eco-Environment & Health (EEH) is an international and multidisciplinary peer-reviewed journal designed for publications on the frontiers of the ecology, environment and health as well as their related disciplines. EEH focuses on the concept of "One Health" to promote green and sustainable development, dealing with the interactions among ecology, environment and health, and the underlying mechanisms and interventions. Our mission is to be one of the most important flagship journals in the field of environmental health.

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