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Plastic is everywhere. Scientists have found tiny bits of microplastic even in the extremes of the Earth – from the deep-sea of the Mariana Trench to the peaks of the Pyrenees – and damaging life around us. While source reduction can be one of the most effective ways to reduce plastic waste, how do we deal with all of the plastic that already exists, polluting our oceans and overflowing out of landfills?
Polyethylene terephthalate, also known as PET and one of the most common types of plastic, is unfortunately notoriously difficult to break down. In 2016 however, scientists found a new species of bacteria outside of a bottle-recycling facility capable of decomposing plastic. The discovery revealed that the bacteria’s abilities depend on two specific enzymes. These enzymes work together in a two-step process to break plastic down into smaller molecules that the bacteria can turn into energy.