back to article Scissors cut paper. Paper wraps rock. Lab-made enzyme eats plastic

A new enzyme developed at the University of Portsmouth will enable the recycling of plastic used for disposable drinks containers. A commercial infrastructure based around the enzyme would have two benefits: disposing of the original container, and creating new clear plastic for reuse. Professor John McGeehan said the …

  1. Johnny Canuck

    Mutant 59. Do no scientists read?

    1. big_D Silver badge

      Ringworld is a classic on this subject, specifically the second book, Ringworld Engineers.

      1. h4rm0ny

        Also has echoes of Zodiac by Neal Stephenson.

        So have we just invented rust for plastic?

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Mutant 59: written by a scientist

      Some scientists can read, some can write, some can do both of those, some can even do numbers and logic and other fact-based stuff.

      https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kit_Pedler

      https://www.imdb.com/name/nm0670035/

      And, as many others have noted, Mutant 59 was directly or indirectly based on Doomwatch, S1 Ep1: The Plastic Easters.

      The Daily Mail and its anti-science friends are only a few decades late catching on to this plastic dependence. Maybe they're finally learning to read. It'd be a start.

    3. Aqua Marina Silver badge

      Doorways!

      George RR Martin in the 90s did a TV movie pilot for a series called Doorways where the protagonists could jump through a portal into an alternative dimension where things were the same but slightly different. This preceded Sliders by about a year (wonder where they got the idea). Anyway one of the plot lines of the dimension they jumped into was that on earth 2 (or was it 3, I haven’t seen it since 1994) they had designed a bug that would solve the earths ecological problems by eating oil based waste. Only the bug spread worldwide eating all the oil, and anything made from it such as plastics. As a result the earth was a much healthier place to live due to no pollution, but we were pretty much living back in the 1800s technologically.

      1. Mike Moyle Silver badge

        Re: Doorways!

        ...and did our heroes end up accidentally infecting every world that they visited thereafter?

    4. jelabarre59 Silver badge

      Mutant 59. Do no scientists read?

      That was exactly what I thought of reading the headline. But it's an "old" novel by a couple of classic-era DrWho writers that isn't a Who-related product. So no, probably didn't read it.

  2. Zimmer
    Stop

    Doomwatch... The Plastic Eaters...

    https://www.imdb.com/title/tt0564476/?ref_=ttep_ep1

    1. a_mu

      What can go wrong ?

      What can go wrong ?

      1. Muscleguy Silver badge

        Re: What can go wrong ?

        From an isolated engineered enzyme? feck all. Enzymes do not replicate on their own.

        We have an increasing history of using tame, domesticated bugs to create enzymes which cannot escape the lab/factory. In Biolabs we use E. coli bacteria on the open lab bench containing all manner of genes. They are heavily crippled, they need a critical amino acid not common in the environment as their ability to make it was removed, they cannot have sex with other bacteria so cannot get it back from the environment and various other technical cripplings. If you go onto one of the biotech company sites selling those bacteria tweaked so they are ready to have dna put into them then all the cripplings are listed.

        So, to make this enzymes we can just plug it into a domestic strain, perhaps one of those churning out clothes washing enzymes and which have been doing so for decades without escaping.

        Yours Muscleguy BSc, Phd.

        1. TechnicalBen Silver badge
          Mushroom

          Re: What can go wrong ?

          I assume any bacteria made to produce the enzymes have a risk of escaping, possibly even the gene migrating to other bacteria... but at the same time there is a risk they loose the ability naturally.

          Mainly natural things don't run away catastrophically too often... but with out help things can get out of hand locally.

      2. anothercynic Silver badge

        Re: What can go wrong ?

        The Andromeda Strain...

    2. Zog_but_not_the_first Silver badge
      Thumb Up

      Re: Doomwatch... The Plastic Eaters...

      Ha! My first thought too.

    3. macjules Silver badge
      Thumb Up

      Re: Doomwatch... The Plastic Eaters...

      Great minds think alike ..

      1. DiViDeD Silver badge
        Windows

        Re: Doomwatch... The Plastic Eaters...

        Me too. Jesus, we commentards really *are* a bunch of old farts, aren't we?

        1. DougS Silver badge

          Re: Doomwatch... The Plastic Eaters...

          Now we just need to manufacture several supertankers worth of the enzyme and "spill" it in the great pacific garbage patch...

    4. John Smith 19 Gold badge
      Unhappy

      Re: Doomwatch... The Plastic Eaters...

      Note however this is an enzyme, not a bacteria.

      It does not self replicate

      The trouble starts if someone reverse engineers it back into a bacteria and that escapes into the wild.

      Doesn't anyone think it impressive they found the prototype of this enzyme already in the wild?

      Evolution in action.

      1. JimC Silver badge

        Re: Doomwatch... The Plastic Eaters...

        Well yes. Its funny how often people forget that crude oil is a natural product so of course there are bacteria that eat it: there are bacteria that will have a go at practically anything.

        But for all the doom doom about it escaping, we have a world full of bacteria, fungi, insects and goodness knows what else that happily eat wood, and we manage to live with it quite happily.

        Incidentally I am very unsure about this "Plastic lasts thousands of years" stuff. I'm 30 plus years out of date now, but when I was briefly in the industry the problem that was always exercising us was stopping the stuff breaking down ion its own.

  3. Graham Dawson
  4. israel_hands

    Ringworld Calling...

    Read about this yesterday and it sounds amazing, hopefully they can produce it enough quantity to make it a viable solution.

    Although, I am reminded of the fact that in Niven's Ringworld novels it's revealed that the Ringworld creator's civilisation failed because of an errant bacteria being accidentally introduced that ate all of their superconductors. There'd need to be some fairly tight controls around using this to avoid it getting out into the "wild".

    1. Alister Silver badge

      Re: Ringworld Calling...

      There'd need to be some fairly tight controls around using this to avoid it getting out into the "wild".

      "What do you mean, you shouldn't have kept it in plastic containers! Nobody told me!"

    2. AS1

      Re: Ringworld Calling...

      The bacteria is already in the wild, as it was "discovered in a Japanese waste recycling centre."

      Using the enzyme is more efficient and, as enzymes cannot reproduce, unlikely to become uncontrolled. We would need to look out for toxic byproducts.

    3. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Ringworld Calling...

      the Ringworld creator's civilisation failed because of an errant bacteria being accidentally introduced that ate all of their superconductors

      Not to mention the risk of being wiped out due to a virulent disease caught from a dirty telephone.

      1. Dr. Mouse Silver badge

        Re: Ringworld Calling...

        It calls to mind the Red Dwarf episode where Lister gets a genetically modified virus to peal potatoes. Unfortunately, it turns out to also eat clothing and hair...

    4. noboard
      Coat

      Re: Ringworld Calling...

      "There'd need to be some fairly tight controls around using this to avoid it getting out into the "wild".

      Sounds like a job for the Canadian Governement

    5. Craig 2

      Re: Ringworld Calling...

      Yep, the scariest word in that article is "accidentally". What else are they accidentally creating and what are the odds it might not be controllable... Lots of sci-fi references on similar stories but I like Michael Critchon's "The Andromeda Strain" in which an alien bacterium is brought back to earth and mutates rapidly. At one stage it likes dissolving rubber...

    6. nijam

      Re: Ringworld Calling...

      > ... Ringworld creator's civilisation failed because of an errant bacteria being accidentally introduced that ate all of their superconductors.

      As I recollect, it was not accidental - it was a deliberate act by a (different) alien civilisation.

      Which somehow makes all this talk about enzymes and the (presumed) bacteria that produce them slightly more scary.

    7. PhilBuk

      Re: Ringworld Calling...

      Not accidentally. It was introduced by the Puppeteers because they considered the Protectors that built the Ringworld were a threat.

      Phil.

  5. Alister Silver badge
    Mushroom

    Brit boffins save planet

    Yeah, until the microbes go on the rampage, eating plastic all over the planet, leaving nothing but metal behind...

    :)

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Brit boffins save planet

      and once they've eaten all the plastic, and having gone through (unexpectedly, but of course) blitz adaptation to consume metal, "scientists have discovered, to their concern, that a new strain of bacteria has developed, which is capable of disassembling human body and turning it into compost in less than 2 milis

      ;)

      1. Voyna i Mor Silver badge

        Re: Brit boffins save planet

        "and having gone through (unexpectedly, but of course) blitz adaptation to consume metal, "

        Good luck with that.

        I know you're joking, but you can't "consume" metals very easily. Completely different metabolic pathway needed, and the bacteria would need to arise quite independently. With all the steel structures we have around the place, you'd have thought if it was easy bacteria would be chewing them up by now.

        Concrete however...thiobacter concretivorans lives in hot springs and uses limestone as a substrate. The pools of nuclear reactors turned out to be a similar environment. But it does like warm conditions.

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: Brit boffins save planet

          "With all the steel structures we have around the place, you'd have thought if it was easy bacteria would be chewing them up by now."

          I've had plenty of cars succumb to tinworm over the years.......

          1. PNGuinn Silver badge
            Boffin

            Re: tinworm

            Nah, that only eats tinfoil hats.

            You mean its omnivorous cousin the metalmaggot.

        2. Saigua

          Re: Brit boffins save planet

          So they shouldn't alternately excrete perovskites, electroparamagnetic organics, graphene and nitrogen-doped carbon nanotubes? What's a successor microbe to do? Straight up turn terepthalate into photonic crystals that emulate gold or some fashionable late transition metal? WiMP-consuming hyperperiodic bosonic condensates that turn deep space into light daytime talk/comedy space?

          ViM>You can't "consume" metals very easily.

          Not until the spring-steel connective tissue patch really hits 9.0.

          You don't want to sample compartment syndrome at 8.0. Ping!

    2. macjules Silver badge

      Re: Brit boffins save planet

      Considering how much micro-plastic there is in the food-chain now, especially in fish.

  6. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    It is just me that's noticed.....

    We've been generating plastic trash for a long time, but it seems like it's only become a proper problem since January this year...the date when China refused to accept our plastic waste for recycling.

    1. $till$kint

      Re: It is just me that's noticed.....

      I think some readers may see that as inferring this is a problem of Chinese origin. It's not; their action has simply highlighted the scale of the issue. When China says "too big a problem for us to manage" we had all better sit up and pay attention.

      1. This post has been deleted by its author

      2. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: It is just me that's noticed.....

        I think some readers may see that as inferring this is a problem of Chinese origin. It's not; their action has simply highlighted the scale of the issue.

        Yes - that's exactly what I meant. Not blaming China - if blaming anyone, then blaming the UK for just paying to push the problem onto someone else.

        1. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

          Re: It is just me that's noticed.....

          "Yes - that's exactly what I meant. Not blaming China - if blaming anyone, then blaming the UK for just paying to push the problem onto someone else."

          For that matter, does New York (other US coastal cities are available) still barge it's rubbish out to sea and dump it? If not, how recently did they stop?

          1. jelabarre59 Silver badge

            Re: It is just me that's noticed.....

            For that matter, does New York (other US coastal cities are available) still barge it's rubbish out to sea and dump it? If not, how recently did they stop?

            They definitely weren't dumping it in the ocean in 1987, otherwise NYC wouldn't have had the garbage barge incident:

            http://www.nydailynews.com/new-york/trash-fight-long-voyage-new-york-unwanted-garbage-barge-article-1.812895

            1. John Brown (no body) Silver badge
              Thumb Up

              Re: It is just me that's noticed.....

              They definitely weren't dumping it in the ocean in 1987, otherwise NYC wouldn't have had the garbage barge incident:

              http://www.nydailynews.com/new-york/trash-fight-long-voyage-new-york-unwanted-garbage-barge-article-1.812895

              Thanks for that. That's probably the incident that got distorted in my hazy memory and made me think they were dumping it at sea.

      3. Teiwaz Silver badge

        Re: It is just me that's noticed.....

        I think some readers may see that as inferring this is a problem of Chinese origin

        Ridiculous, the origin of it suddenly becoming more of a priority problem is that suddenly the problem can't be offloaded for someone else to deal with.

        The SEP field broke down, and reality poked it's nose round the door, grinned smugly and presented a huge bill.

        When I was a kid, I used to supplement pocket money looking for glass bottles that could be returned for a few pennys (I think penny chews were just moving into 2p range - so that'll give you an idea the date). Then plastic was more convenient, now we're talking about returning to to a similar solution (only with stick not carrot).

        I can't decide, one step forward, two steps back or two steps forward, one step back.

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: It is just me that's noticed.....

          I was at a music festival with my family. There were those plastic glasses being used and people (generally did recycle on site). However, we noticed children/teens collecting glasses from the field. The staff at the bar agreed to give free drinks via tokens (that could also be used on chips/pizza). The children turned it into an enterprise (although I did notice turf wars between different groups of children). However - the field was generally rubbish free. Child labour but the children were perfectly happy doing it, in return for free drinks and food.

          I remember returning bottles for 2p too (back when a 10p mix up was a really big bag of sweets)

          1. Anonymous Coward
            Anonymous Coward

            Re: It is just me that's noticed.....

            I was at a music festival with my family. There were those plastic glasses being used

            You learn to listen to music without wearing plastic spectacles, like I have.

          2. Teiwaz Silver badge

            Re: It is just me that's noticed.....

            I did notice turf wars between different groups of children

            How quickly they learn - innocence to full cutthroat capitalism (or full organised crime gangs) over drinks and chips.

          3. Saigua

            Worm Bin Type 9 Courtesy The Farage

            Single-use is design tragedy of sorts. Brutalism for nothingness fans. You either integrate the pipecleaner with the single-use straw or call it trash and imagine it thoroughly enough to pop out in a way that at least agonizes gulls if not performing as silage straw, doing turtle-gut cleansing that missing seaweeds no longer do, and making supercaustic in breakdown to combat carbonic acid.

          4. Uffish

            Re: It is just me that's noticed.....

            I remember when beer was less than 1 shilling a pint.

            More to the point, try keeping count of the bits of plastic you throw away each day - yoghurt pots, snack wrappers, bubble wrap and polystyrene popcorn packaging, toothpaste tubes etc,etc,etc - all carefully made, high spec materials made to be thrown away.

        2. ravenviz Silver badge

          Re: It is just me that's noticed.....

          penny chews

          Black Jacks and Fruit Salads were 1/2 p each when I was growing up.

          1. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

            Re: It is just me that's noticed.....

            "Black Jacks and Fruit Salads were 1/2 p each when I was growing up."

            Pah! Kids!. They were 4 for a penny when I was a kid (that's 1d not 1 new penny too!)

            Technically, they cost a farthing each, but even I'm not quite old enough to remember actual farthings.

            (and yes, for you youngsters, farthing as in the Penny Farthing Bicycle, so-called because a penny was a large coin and a farthing, a 1/4 penny, was very small)

            1. h4rm0ny

              Re: It is just me that's noticed.....

              I refuse to believe these tales of sweets that cost half a pence. Surely that would be below the minimum transaction free of your debit card.

              1. Jan 0

                Re: It is just me that's noticed.....

                H4rm0ny> I refuse to believe these tales of sweets that cost half a pence. Surely that would be below the minimum transaction free of your debit card.

                Maybe, but I don't think we had debit cards before decimalisation. (The Barclaycard, credit card, arrived in 1966). Back then your statement was on a Hollerith card, which you returned with your cheque. Harvey Matusow discovered that, if you edited the Hollerith card, you could choose a new balance. I never tried this, but I had a friend who achieved the same end by purposely "maxing out" his Barclaycard on high end camera gear a few days before emigrating to Australia:)

    2. TonyJ Silver badge

      Re: It is just me that's noticed.....

      I scuba dive and the amount of trash you see is unforgivable. I try to pick the stuff up and even take a net bag for that purpose on most dives but even though I am far from alone in doing this, it just seems to be a never ending, unwinnable battle and we need a proper solution rather than just shipping it around to make it someone else's problem.

      1. Prst. V.Jeltz Silver badge

        shipping it around

        I am suspicious of all the recycling that we export , I get the impression it all goes in someones landfill and we tick a box.

        Why cant we we (and everyone else) do their own recycling?

        1. Yet Another Hierachial Anonynmous Coward

          Re: shipping it around

          25 odd years ago when I started to get involved with largescale replacement of PC's and printers and stuff I initially thought that sending them to Africa and the developing world was a fine solution and gave them a newlife. Didn't take long to find that they were thrown into containers so most of them arrived smashed and trashed, and ultimately, when they were scrapped, they were just dumped, or left for kids to break up. Back then, with CRT's and the like, there was little regulation on mercury, cadmium and other toxic stuff which was contained therein.

          The only way to dispose of stuff created in the first world is to dispose of it in the first world. Whilst WEEE regulations can be a pain, making manufacturers have to think about the costs of disposal means they put some thought into the design process.

          Single use plastics and the war on plastic bags may be an inconvenience for us all, but ultimately it is the right thing to do.

          What was wrong with old fashioned paper bags anyway?

          1. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

            Re: shipping it around

            "The only way to dispose of stuff created in the first world is to dispose of it in the first world."

            OTOH most of it seems to be created in China these days.

          2. phuzz Silver badge

            Re: shipping it around

            "What was wrong with old fashioned paper bags anyway?"

            They fall apart when they get wet, hence the expression, "as weak as a damp paper bag".

            If anything, paper bags were the problem, because they taught us to think of shopping bags as disposable, when we could be using harder wearing, re-usable plastic bags from the start (as we do now).

            1. Anonymous Coward
              Anonymous Coward

              Re: shipping it around

              "f anything, paper bags were the problem, because they taught us to think of shopping bags as disposable, when we could be using harder wearing, re-usable plastic bags from the start (as we do now)."

              Unfortunately the re-usable bags have a much larger carbon footprint than the 'single use' bags (about 150 times greater) while the 'single use' bags usually get re-purposed, thusavoiding the need for buying other plastic bags for the secondary purpose.

              When one looks at the illness and mortality data associated with re-usable bags, one can make a very good public health argument for banning them.

              1. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

                Re: shipping it around

                "Unfortunately the re-usable bags have a much larger carbon footprint than the 'single use' bags (about 150 times greater) while the 'single use' bags usually get re-purposed, thusavoiding the need for buying other plastic bags for the secondary purpose."

                You do raise an interesting point there, but I suppose it all boils down to individuals. I have almost no need to re-use single use carrier bags and the shopping bags we use are now coming up to 3 years old and still going strong. In my case, I'd say we already broke even on the carbon footprint and are now in debit.

            2. Esme

              Re: shipping it around

              Uh, when I was a child, my Mum used to get all her shopping in her shopping bag - which was generally made of a hard-wearing cord. If there was lots to get, she'd use a two-wheeled shopping trolley. Yes, stuff was often put into paper bags by the vendors, but those paper bags weren't generally intended to be what you carried them home in. IMO, plastic shopping bags were teh problem, as they offered a solution to those who found themselves wanting to purchase more than the pint of milk and loaf of bread they;d originally intended, and so had not bothered bringing their durable shopping bag along. Laziness did the rest. (And I've been as guilty as anyone else in that laziness in the past).

              1. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

                Re: shipping it around

                "a solution to those who found themselves wanting to purchase more than the pint of milk and loaf of bread they;d originally intended,"

                And our local Morrisons (probably a chain wide decision) are no longer going to provide single use bags at all now. So those times I pop in for a one or two items and impulse buy more, do I just stop and not buy those items or do buy yet another multi-use bag at whatever price they are now charging? I suspect this might be a short lived decision if the bottom line is hit.

                1. disgustedoftunbridgewells Silver badge

                  Re: shipping it around

                  When ASDA started charging for carrier bags ( a couple of years before the law was changed ), I got to the counter, was told carrier bags are now 5p ( or whatever they were ).

                  I said sod that and left my shopping on the conveyer belt.

                  I'm guessing a lot of people did that because they stopped charging for bags.

          3. wayne 8

            RE: old fashioned paper bags

            "old fashioned paper bags" are made from trees. Could be a first world tree farm or it could be a rain forest, wherever the wood and labor is cheapest in the global economy.

            Paper produced from hemp would be a better alternative. If it weren't illegal.

            1. Hans Neeson-Bumpsadese Silver badge

              Re: RE: old fashioned paper bags

              Paper produced from hemp would be a better alternative. If it weren't illegal.

              Why would paper made from hemp be illegal? Hemp is currently grown for use in the building construction industry (although there's some which doesn't make it that far, as people steal some of the crop in the mistaken belief that it still contains the chemical components which would make it a narcotic).

              1. Anonymous Coward
                Anonymous Coward

                Re: RE: old fashioned paper bags

                @ (although there's some which doesn't make it that far, as people steal some of the crop in the mistaken belief that it still contains the chemical components which would make it a narcotic).

                Perhaps they steal it because the local hemp has more efficient roots and the marijuana can be spliced onto it for faster growth.

              2. Anonymous Coward
                Anonymous Coward

                Re: RE: old fashioned paper bags

                "Why would paper made from hemp be illegal? Hemp is currently grown for use in the building construction industry"

                It is also used as a fibre for making clothing/textiles.

          4. katrinab Silver badge

            Re: shipping it around

            "What was wrong with old fashioned paper bags anyway?"

            Apparently methane emissions when they rot.

            1. Prst. V.Jeltz Silver badge

              old fashioned paper bags

              funny how the Americans never made the move from paper to plastic "grocery" bags , from what I can see in the movies.

              1. Yet Another Anonymous coward Silver badge

                Re: old fashioned paper bags

                funny how the Americans never made the move from paper to plastic "grocery" bags , from what I can see in the movies.

                But the paper bags only have to be carried out to the F150 in the parking lot.

                It's not easy to carry paper sacks with no handles when you're walking

                1. Anonymous Coward
                  Anonymous Coward

                  Re: old fashioned paper bags

                  "But the paper bags only have to be carried out to the F150 in the parking lot."

                  That's an unfair stereotype. The other half of drivers use the more elegant and tasteful SUV.

                  1. Yet Another Anonymous coward Silver badge

                    Re: old fashioned paper bags

                    That's an unfair stereotype. The other half of drivers use the more elegant and tasteful SUV.

                    Towed behind their RV ?

                  2. TonyJ Silver badge
                    Joke

                    Re: old fashioned paper bags

                    "...That's an unfair stereotype. The other half of drivers use the more elegant and tasteful SUV..."

                    We had an SUV when we went to Florida - needed 7 seas as there were 6 of us.

                    Big 6.2 litre engine that seemed to be giving decent returns in terms of MPG.

                    Until we realised that it had a monstrous 120l tank and was actually doing something like 12mpg.

                    Big, yes. Tasteful - for an SUV, maybe. Elegant? Not in the slightest.

                2. Teiwaz Silver badge

                  Re: old fashioned paper bags

                  It's not easy to carry paper sacks with no handles when you're walking

                  You may want to dig out old Starsky and Hutch vids as training material.

              2. ravenviz Silver badge

                Re: old fashioned paper bags

                funny how the Americans never made the move from paper to plastic "grocery" bags

                Yep they did. In stores where someone is there to pack your bags they use far too many that are less than a third full, DOUBLE BAGGED!! I can never believe how many carrier bags I have after a small shop. When I visit US I actually take my own bags now!

          5. nijam

            Re: shipping it around

            > What was wrong with old fashioned paper bags anyway?

            By some measures (not all, obviously) they are worse for the environment, apparently.

          6. h4rm0ny

            Water fountains.

            Most plastic I buy is plastic drink bottles. If shops and public places had water fountains I could just fill up my flask and cut my purchased drinks down to a fraction.

        2. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: shipping it around

          "Why cant we we (and everyone else) do their own recycling?"

          Because it is a complicated technical problem with different, incompatible implementations and a requirement for specialized knowledge and equipment for each different solution set, not to mention various serious safety issues.

        3. Lars Silver badge
          Unhappy

          Re: shipping it around

          "Why cant we we (and everyone else) do their own recycling?".

          Britain is not too good at recycling whatever.

          What is the country that recycles the most?

          Leading the list with a whopping 52 percent of its waste being recycled is Switzerland. This is nearly double what the United States has. Number two on the list is Austria with 49.7 percent. This is a close match for number three-ranked Germany with 48 percent and number four-ranked Netherlands with 46 percent.

          Japan's plastic waste utilization rate stood at 83% in 2014, up from 73% in 2006 and 39% in 1996, according to the nation's Plastic Waste Management Institute [35]. The figure for the UK is about half that of Japan's, while the figure for the US is around 20%.

          As for Gove's deposit return scheme, many European countries have had it for many years now.

          But I suppose island people have a temptation to just dump everything in the sea.

          PS. I hope leaving the EU doesn't make you shit in the Thames again.

          1. Teiwaz Silver badge

            Re: shipping it around

            PS. I hope leaving the EU doesn't make you shit in the Thames again.

            Yay, bums out the first floor windows. A return to traditional conservative values, shitting on passers by from the upper floors of whitehall...

    3. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: It is just me that's noticed.....

      I think Blue Planet had a far bigger impact on this becoming an issue, rather than some distant (to the general population) problem with dumping it onto China.

  7. AMBxx Silver badge
    Joke

    PET

    Really childish, but french for fart.

    I remember visiting a french winery with a couple of french salemen. They struggled to keep a straight face while the owner was talking about the advantages of their new PET bottles.

    1. Hans Neeson-Bumpsadese Silver badge

      Re: PET

      I did not know this. Every day's a school day - have an upvote

    2. Voyna i Mor Silver badge

      Re: PET

      Reminds me of a French audience being unable to restrain themselves when I mentioned we had developed something for the then British telecoms company GPT. When pronounced in French it comes out as "jay pay tay" - j'ai pété or "I have farted".

      This is why brand names are difficult.

    3. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: PET

      Which is also why the old GEC-Plessey Telecommunications used to cause so much enterainment when referred to by its initials "GPT", since in French that sounds like "J'ai pété" - "I have farted".

      Edit: damn, 2 minutes too late...

    4. DJV Silver badge

      Re: PET

      Yep, I also believe it may have been one of the reasons Commodore changed the name of their original PET computer (which, they said, stood for Personal Electronic Transactor) to the CBM range. Later on they had to call the VIC-20 the VC-20 in Germany as VIC was apparently a swear word.

      1. handleoclast Silver badge

        Re: PET

        as VIC was apparently a swear word.

        German "v" is pronounced as English "f" (as is German "f" so "v" is redundant). Which gives "fic." Similar-ish to the stem of German "fichen" meaning "to fuck."

        In some places, a computer called a Fuck 20 might sell very well.

    5. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: PET

      It's almost as bad the the Americans electing a president who's name is northern slang for fart.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: PET

        "It's almost as bad the the Americans electing a president who's name is northern slang for fart."

        Says the AC who won't share his own name.

        1. Prst. V.Jeltz Silver badge

          Re: PET

          @ac2

          "Says the AC who won't share his own name."

          says another AC who wont share his own name

      2. Toltec

        Re: PET

        Does that make trumpet tautological?

    6. Wyrdness

      Re: PET

      The red London buses around here (Ealing) are run by the French state transport operator Régie Autonome des Transports Parisiens. So the buses have RATP written on them, which I always assume is pronounced as "rat pee".

      1. Wilseus

        Re: PET

        Kaga, the old name for Taxan sounds like "caga" which means "to shit" in Spanish.

      2. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: the French state transport operator Régie Autonome des Transports Parisiens.

        It's the "British National Party - Paribas" bank that always confused me... :-)

  8. TWB

    I'm not much of a chemist/biologist

    What are the end results of the breaking down by this wonder enzyme? (Sorry if this is obvious to some of you, I switched off when we did organic chemistry, not sure why)

    I'm all for it if it is as good as suggested, but also wonder if the enzyme 'gets out' that plastics will no longer be useful for what we really liked them for - longevity, hygiene etc.

    Having said all this, we humans probably just need to consume a heel of a lot less or just say "fuck the planet, let's party!!!!"

    1. Dr. G. Freeman

      Re: I'm not much of a chemist/biologist

      It breaks PETs down to terephthalic acid and ethylene glycol,

      So next enzyme needs to break down terephthalic acid and ethylene glycol....

    2. John Robson Silver badge

      Re: I'm not much of a chemist/biologist

      "What are the end results of the breaking down by this wonder enzyme? (Sorry if this is obvious to some of you, I switched off when we did organic chemistry, not sure why)"

      Assuming the journalists have done their job...

      It's the raw material needed to build the plastic again.

      The enzyme takes the long chains, and spits out individual links.

      Reassembling those links into new chains gives you back a new plastic.

      1. John Brown (no body) Silver badge
        Coat

        Re: I'm not much of a chemist/biologist

        "Reassembling those links into new chains gives you back a new plastic."

        You just need some very, very tiny tweezers!

        (Yeah, the plastic mac with suspiciously ever embiggening holes in it)

  9. Prst. V.Jeltz Silver badge

    Good book on the subject

    From the author of the award-winning The Second Horseman comes an all-too-plausible eco-thriller, in which a new bacteria with a voracious appetite for oil threatens the worlds energy supply.

    https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/629248.Darkness_Falls

  10. dmck

    Anyone else see the episode of DOOMWATCH where the plastic eating enzymes escaped into the world ?

    1. UtterTosh

      I watched it when it was first broadcast.... yes I'm that old....

      1. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

        "I watched it when it was first broadcast.... yes I'm that old...."

        Although I was old enough to watch and be terrified by Dr Who, Doomwatch was deemed too adult and real for me by The Powers That Be, ie parents, but I did get a DVD box-set of the surviving episode recently. Most of it still stands the test of time very, very well.

  11. LenG

    Passing the buck

    McGeehan said: "We can all play a significant part in dealing with the plastic problem, but the scientific community who ultimately created these 'wonder-materials' must now use all the technology at their disposal to develop real solutions."

    The problem is not the material but the use to which it is put. Sure, we need a technological solution to the issue but really we should simply have stopped using disposable 1-shot containers. Really, it boils down to who pays the hidden cost of disposal.

    1. Paul

      Re: Passing the buck

      yes, recycling and waste disposal is an externality for many businesses.

      1. Prst. V.Jeltz Silver badge

        Re: Passing the buck

        "we should simply have stopped using disposable 1-shot containers."

        The Govester talking abpt this onradio 4 this morning. Showing off how he has a cup he can drink out of , and how thay will be bringing in "refill stations" for the platic water bottle problem .

        I think he means taps.

  12. Aitor 1 Silver badge

    Burn it.

    Burn it and use pyrolisis reactors to make something else or just burn it as fuel with the right filters.

    And then please use PEF..

    This scheme + just burning in general in modern facilitires will be easier and more logical than the population separating the plastics so they get loaded in a ship sent towards some poor place, as we do now.

    https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/does-burning-garbage-to-produce-energy-make-sense/

    Not ideal, while relatively clean, it still pollutes.. but way better than other options, including direct landfill.

    With the ash, you can make ceramics and concrete.

    Flyash:

    https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0008884603003867

    Bottomash:

    http://iopscience.iop.org/article/10.1088/1757-899X/209/1/012082

    So we basically would not throw away anything but reuse 100% of it and save money.. but some pollution would occur.

    1. ravenviz Silver badge
      Boffin

      Re: Burn it.

      just burn it as fuel with the right filters

      I think there should be a range of solutions and this should be one of them. Incineration 'done properly' can be a clean solution, especially if the furnaces are self perpetuating once started, the fuel being the plastic itself = low carbon footprint.

  13. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    I found out how to "recycle" PET bottles years ago.

    1 Buy the cheapest bottle of spring water available.

    2 Place by the bed and drink as desired.

    3 Refill from the tap when empty.

    4 Rinse and repeat steps 2 & 3 until green stuff starts growing then go to step 1.

    I normally get a year or two of use out of them before they need replacing.

    NRT.

    1. GrumpenKraut Silver badge
      Boffin

      Re: I found out how to "recycle" PET bottles years ago.

      > 4 Rinse and repeat steps 2 & 3 until green stuff starts growing then go to step 1.

      Algae. A bit of bleach will take care of that.

      Still, after some time the plastic may be too brittle, so you may have to discard the bottle.

    2. JimC Silver badge

      Re: I found out how to "recycle" PET bottles years ago.

      1 Buy the cheapest bottle of spring water available.

      2 Place by the bed and drink as desired.

      3 Refill from the tap when empty.

      4 Realise how disgusting the local tap water tastes, give up and go and buy another bottle.

    3. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

      Re: I found out how to "recycle" PET bottles years ago.

      "1 Buy the cheapest bottle of spring water available.

      2 Place by the bed and drink as desired.

      3 Refill from the tap when empty."

      I do a lot of driving. Insulated cooler bag, ice pack and the same disposable water bottle for, I think, about 3 years now. I go for the "sports" bottle type with the flip top cap and it only gets replaced if the flip top hinge wears out. They are remarkable durable for "one shot" water bottles. The current one is about 700ml, a decent size, and cost about 35p at ASDA. Fill every night, leave in the fridge and the bag + icepack keeps it cool all day except on rare very hot days and the car is parked up for more than a few hours.

    4. Nick Ryan Silver badge

      Re: I found out how to "recycle" PET bottles years ago.

      The downside of many plastics, and many other packaging materials, and one of the reasons for shorter "best before" ("use by") dates on stuff that one would expect to keep for longer, is that the packaging material may (very) slowly disolve into the what it's holding, and sometimes the other way round as well. While a certain amount of this is expected, too much and the contained product is considered contaminated. This is one of the reasons behind much of the laminated, multi-material packaging which can't be separated and therefore can't be reasonable recycled - the laminated layer protects the content from the packaging.

      It is something to beware of if you reuse plastic "disposable" bottles for too long - eventually they will contaminate what you're storing in them.

  14. J0015

    Doomed

    Sounds a bit Doomwatch to me...

    https://www.imdb.com/title/tt0065290/plotsummary?ref_=tt_ov_pl

    Mind you, the series could be ready for a remake.

  15. 2Nick3 Bronze badge

    Go Bulls!!

    "... and Lee Woodcock from the University of South Florida led the research team."

    Always good to see a fellow Bull getting recognition.

  16. JeffyPoooh Silver badge
    Pint

    With modern incinerators...

    Modern incinerators have excellent scrubbers. Burn the stuff. Make power. Offset coal. Done.

    The Solution: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=X2xlQaimsGg

    PS; Wander over to the ten rivers that make up 95% of the source of the plastic in the oceans, and politely ask them to please cut out the littering.

    1. disgustedoftunbridgewells Silver badge

      Re: With modern incinerators...

      I wonder if it would be feasible to just put nets in those ten rivers, haul them out every so often and incinerate them on site.

      If it's only 10 rivers, it could be doable using one year of the UK governments foreign aid budget.

      What to do about all the fish getting caught would presumably be the main problem, although if the plastic floats, the nets could sit not far below the surface.

  17. Anonymous Coward
    Alert

    A good start

    An Australia scientist found that PET bottles make a great drop-in replacement for coking coal.

    its all the other plastics, especially those floating in our oceans that we need to eat up.

  18. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    The fix for recycling is return it to where it should always have been

    Recycling(TM) as practised currently is just money for the friends of legislators.

    If you realistically want to limit it then any action has to be at the source rather than the consumer.

    Built in obsolescence creates a mass of waste that can be addressed simply by making the manufacturer responsible for dealing with it - return to source. Consider buying a washing machine as an example, it is delivered and any packaging leaves with the delivery company. You buy a small item like a mobile phone and what you get it just the item with built in charging connectors.

    Food packaging can also be addressed in the same way i.e. without any packaging and no non-consumable components at all, if you want to store it then it is in the consumer's reusable containers.

    "Recycling" outside of manufacturers should never have been allowed and no amount of running around by consumers and government is going to be cost effective or viable in the long term.

    This was not an accident as "Recycling" is just another tax on the consumer, if you want to get rid of the whole issue then do not allow it to be created in the first place. Ban any non-consumable product with a life span lower than the buyer and make manufacturer put up a bond so they cannot just go bust and leave the cost of dealing with their waste to everyone else. Make manufacturers exchange any consumable/faulty components in their products for free.

    All this stupidity at not seeing that preventing waste being created in the first place is the only cost effective way of getting rid of the issue but then again whilst people get rich shuffling this waste around then expect the obvious to be ignored.

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