To avoid system errors, if Chrome is your preferred browser, please update to the latest version of Chrome (81 or higher) or use an alternative browser.
Click here to login if you're an NAE Member
Recover Your Account Information
Download File (mp3)
Please upgrade to a newer browser.
Lede: Most man-made plastic isn’t biodegradable and it’s not as easily recycled as you might think. But nature may have given us a clue about how to fix the problem.
Randy Atkins: A couple years ago, Japanese scientists found plastic-eating bacteria in a pile of discarded bottles. The bugs had evolved to produce an enzyme that breaks down the common plastic P-E-T. Gregg Beckham, an engineer at the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, is collaborating with an international team of researchers that has figured out how the enzyme works.
Gregg Beckham: There’s room to make this enzyme even better at degrading P-E-T.
Randy Atkins: Currently, Beckham says recycling processes only allow most plastic bottles to be converted into lower-grade products, for uses such as in textiles or carpets.
Gregg Beckham: Taking the enzyme further in terms of engineering it and making it better would allow us to go from a bottle, break that down into its building blocks, and go back to a bottle.
Randy Atkins: The positive environmental impacts of that could be huge. With the National Academy of Engineering, Randy Atkins, WTOP News.