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The landscape of enzymatic plastic recycling projects in Europe

Author: Katrin Weinhandl, ACIB

Over the last twenty years, plastic has become one of the most important materials in various industrial sectors. Plastic consumption is increasing rapidly. The other side of the coin, however, is growing mountains of plastic waste and polluted oceans. Experts agree that we need to do more to improve plastic recycling processes. The difficulty, however, is mainly that there are so many different types of plastic components, all of which require a different recycling process.

The good news: a number of projects are addressing this issue. The Horizon 2020 and Horizon Europe programs alone list 285 projects in the Cordis database with the search term “plastic recycling”. But how do these projects complement each other and how does our BBI-JU project ENZYCLE fit into the research landscape on this topic? In this article, we want to give special attention to enzymatic plastic degradation. The BBI Call “Apply microorganisms and/or enzymes to resolve end-of-life issues of plastics” produced three projects, all looking at sustainable ways to bring diverse plastic fractions into a circular economy.

  • In the BIZENTE project, the research team uses ligninases to degrade thermoset composite plastics. This type of plastic is particularly stable and can be found, for example, in airplanes, windmills, buildings or sports articles. BIZENTE is working on recycling these plastics.
  • The RECOVER project focuses on plastic degradation in agriculture and the food industry. In the project, plastic packaging and agricultural waste streams are to be brought into a cycle through new biotechnological solutions.
  • Our own project ENZYCLE is dealing with the enzymatic degradation of plastic fractions that could not yet be recycled. Both, individual enzymes and communities of microorganisms are tested to recycle plastic components and make them ready for new applications in the packaging and building materials industries.

The degradation of mixed plastic materials is also the central topic in the Mix-Up project. In a collaboration between Europe and China, microbial communities are being investigated for their potential to degrade plastics. Also here the focus is on creating a circular bioeconomy.

In addition, some projects are also increasingly dealing with the upcycling of successfully degraded plastics. In particular, projects from the CE-BIOTEC Call “Upcycling bio-plastics of food and drink packaging” are working intensively on how to rebuild recycled monomers into new products.

  • The UPLIFT project aims to develop a biorefinery for plastic materials in the food and beverage packaging sector. The concept takes into account the entire value chain from the extraction of the monomers to the end product and back again via the recycling route.
  • upPE-T also addresses this issue and focuses on the upcycling of PE and PET waste to generate biodegradable plastics.
  • The PRESERVE consortium wants to develop bio-based plastic packaging and textiles with the help of bio-based coatings that are more easily degradable and can subsequently be upcycled into new packaging and non-food applications.

So there is a lot going on in the European research landscape! A few of the projects mentioned will meet this November for an intensive exchange at esib 2022/ IFPB (International Conference on Fibre and Polymer Biotechnology). Interested in being there? Early Bird registration is still possible until the end of August!

Through intensive cooperation, synergies can be created to reach our goal faster and to relieve our planet in the best possible way. Let’s get rid of planet plastic and become greener again!



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