With an ever-increasing amount of plastic waste, a number of companies and citizens have been making changes to reduce the negative impacts to the environment such as a discovery on upcycling plastic into vanilla flavoring.
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 — referred to as “imitation vanilla.” 85 percent of the chemical is developed from fossil fuels, which poses an issue in terms of ethical consumption. With this in mind, scientists from the University of Edinburgh have unearthed a way to turn plastic waste into an upcycled version of vanilla flavoring as published in the Green Chemistry scientific journal.
The research utilizes E. coli bacteria to convert TA (terephthalic acid) to vanillin as both compositions are very similar and the engineered E. coli is slightly tweaked with the hydrogens and oxygens that are bonded to the same carbon foundation. For 24 hours, a microbial broth heated to 98.6 Fahrenheit will convert 79% of the TA into vanillin, which is comparable to the process of brewing beer.
“This is the first use of a biological system to upcycle plastic waste into a valuable industry chemical and it has very exciting implications for the circular economy,” said Joanna Sadler of the University of Edinburgh.
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