Amusing If Genetic Modification Solves Plastic Waste

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That we’d like to be able to continue using plastics is obvious – there is a reason why we started using them in the first place after all. Cheaper, safer, than the alternatives, why not? There is though that problem of the waste.

Myself I say chuck it in a hole, we’re not short of holes. Current fashion has it that landfill is the very devil so that’s not really on. In which case we want some method of recycling the stuff:

A mutant bacterial enzyme that breaks down plastic bottles for recycling in hours has been created by scientists.

The enzyme, originally discovered in a compost heap of leaves, reduced the bottles to chemical building blocks that were then used to make high-quality new bottles. Existing recycling technologies usually produce plastic only good enough for clothing and carpets.

Cool. So cool as to be Cool Beanz even. We can see every environmentalist welcoming this. Well, maybe:

The new enzyme was revealed in research published on Wednesday in the journal Nature. The work began with the screening of 100,000 micro-organisms for promising candidates, including the leaf compost bug, which was first discovered in 2012.

“It had been completely forgotten, but it turned out to be the best,” said Prof Alain Marty at the Université de Toulouse, France, the chief science officer at Carbios.

The scientists analysed the enzyme and introduced mutations to improve its ability to break down the PET plastic from which drinks bottles are made. They also made it stable at 72C, close to the perfect temperature for fast degradation.

“Introduced mutations” is the current code word for genetic modification, isn’t it? Which means that we’re going to have one substantial part of the environmental movement opposing this. Which will be amusing, because then we all get to ask “Whaddayameanyeraginrecyling?”

There are more logical reasons for being against this:

Waste bottles also have to be ground up and heated before the enzyme is added, so the recycled PET will be more expensive than virgin plastic.

We actually save more resources by making new plastic and putting the old in a hole, see up top. But then there’s very little about current environmentalism that is really about saving resources, is there?

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jgh
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jgh

I prefer to convert my used plastics into energy by splitting the chemical bonds.

Spike
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Spike

Yup, nicely “reduce[s] the bottles to chemical building blocks”.

Boganboy
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Boganboy

I have the entertaining vision of these micro-organisms spreading like a coronavirus, and all our plastics decaying into a smelly sludge. (I understand the sci-fi story was ‘Mutant 59: The Plastic Eaters’.)

We’d better make sure that there’s still some plastics left that are immune.

Mr Womby
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Mr Womby

I still remember the episode of Doomwatch.

Phoenix44
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Phoenix44

I’m amused/appalled that “clothes” are seen as a low quality use compared to a bottle.

Matt
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Matt

Bottles need to be stronger than yarn. Weaving is a really good way of making a lamina that can be stronger than its weakest constituent part, so the purity of the material can be much lower.

Matt
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Matt

Environmentalism is modern puritanism. Look at everything that they demand through the lens of “we don’t want people to have nice things” and it all makes sense. [late 1990s] Diesel cars are slow and noisy — people must be forced to switch to them [mid 2010s] Diesel cars have improved so they’re actually pretty good — ban them My prediction: as soon as decent electric cars become affordable, a reason will be found as to why they are an environmental disaster and must be restricted in some way. You would think that the environmentalists would be all for nuclear power,… Read more »

Spike
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Spike

But environmentalists no longer even like windmills! Plymouth, Mass. residents have discovered that they make a loud and unnatural noise, birds famously fly into the invisible spinning vanes, and an activist from New Hampshire’s north country commissioned a study that his land will lose HALF its value if there’s a glimpse of a wind farm on the horizon.

Politicians only court environmentalists to capture their votes in the short-term, not because of serious analysis of what they say they want (right now).

Quentin Vole
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Quentin Vole

My understanding (quite possibly erroneous) is that the EU placed a ‘tax’ on landfill to ‘level the playing field’ for countries like the Netherlands, where landfill is not possible and so must resort to more expensive methods.

Boganboy
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Boganboy

A quick google – ec.europa.eu/environment/waste/landfill_index.htm – suggests that it’s just the usual greenie nonsense.