PORTSMOUTH, England (CBSNewYork) – Scientists have engineered an enzyme that can break down a key type of plastic that’s used to make bottles and other products.

The research could offer a new way to recycle millions of tons of plastic.

Researchers at the University of Portsmouth in Great Britain have made a discovery that could drastically reduce plastic pollution, which is one of the world’s biggest environmental problems. They figured out a way for a natural enzyme to digest the strong plastic commonly used in bottles.

“What’s really special about this enzyme is that it digests something man-made,” said Professor John McGeehan of the University of Portsmouth.

The enzyme breaks plastic down into its two key ingredients.

“Most enzymes are digesting grass stains and clothing. But this material has only existed for 50 years so to have an enzyme involved that eats this man-made material is really stunning,” said McGeehan.

It usually takes decades, if not centuries, for plastic bottles to break down. This new process takes just a few days.

So will this discovery help reduce pollution? Environmentalists say there’s still a long way to go.

“It does only focus on one type of plastic,” said Jacob Hayler of the Environmental Services Association. “There are many different types of plastic used in our packaging in our products.”

Scientists say they are now working to improve the enzyme so that it works on a large scale.

The U.S. Department of Energy partnered with the University of Portsmouth on the discovery.


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