On Wednesday, April 8, 2020, the prestigious scientific journal Nature published an article hailing the outstanding performance of a new enzyme, capable of biologically depolymerizing all plastic waste made of polyethylene terephthalate (PET) and recycling it into new bottles. The 90% degradation rate of PET waste works in just 10 hours. An advantage of this new technology is that it produces better quality recycled PET and does not require sorting colored plastics, unlike current techniques.

This world first is the result of a collaboration between the Auvergne-based biological chemistry startup Carbios and its academic partner, Toulouse Biotechnology Institute (TBI).

Based at the Biopôle Clermont-Limagne science park in Saint-Beauzire (Auvergne-Rhône-Alpes region), Carbios has been working on the biorecycling of plastic since 2011. Its 30 employees and the twenty partner researchers at TBI hope their technology will be rolled out on an industrial scale from 2023 or 2025 onwards. Their process will be tested in an industrial demonstrator due to be launched in Saint-Fons, south of Lyon (Auvergne-Rhône-Alpes region), by the second quarter of 2021.

Of the 359 million tons of plastic produced every year worldwide, PET is one of the most abundant resins, with almost 70 million tons: one-third for packaging and two-thirds for polyester textiles. Furthermore, this production is set to grow by almost 4% every year until 2025.

In a move towards the circular economy, the process developed by Carbios could also enable textile fiber waste to be used in PET, which is currently very rarely recycled, to produce packaging. This pioneering development paves the way to a more efficient management of plastic waste to sustainably protect our environment.

This success once again illustrates the enormous capacity for innovation in collaborations between private sector key players and public research in France.