With the amount of plastic waste ever increasing, a number of businesses and citizens have made changes to reduce its negative impact on the environment, such as a discovery on upcycling plastic to vanilla flavor.
Over 380 million tons of plastic are produced and thrown away every year and in 2018 there was a global demand of 37,000 tons for the chemical vanillin – also known as “vanilla imitation”. Eighty-five percent of the chemical is made from fossil fuels, which is a problem in terms of ethical consumption. With this in mind, scientists at the University of Edinburgh have found a way to turn plastic waste into an upcycled version of vanilla flavor, as published in the scientific journal Green Chemistry.
Research uses E. coli bacteria to convert TA (terephthalic acid) to vanillin as both compositions are very similar and the engineered E. coli are easily optimized with the hydrogen and oxygen bound to the same carbon base. For 24 hours, a microbial broth heated to 98.6 Fahrenheit converts 79% of TA to vanillin, which is comparable to the process of brewing beer.
“This is the first time a biological system has been used to upcycling plastic waste into a valuable industrial chemical and it has very exciting implications for the circular economy,” said Joanna Sadler of the University of Edinburgh.
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