Scientists have developed a novel way to use plastic waste as a food industry resource by converting post-consumer PET into vanillin via a series of chemical reactions. The team from the University of Edinburgh/UK, lab-engineered E. coli to transform terephthalic acid – a molecule derived from PET – into the molecule known for giving vanilla its characteristic taste and smell. Scientists demonstrated the technique by converting a used plastic bottle into vanillin.
Researchers say that the vanillin produced would be fit for human consumption, but further experimental tests are required. The study, published in Green Chemistry lays the foundation for further studies to maximize vanillin production toward industrially relevant levels.
“Our work challenges the perception of plastic being a problematic waste and instead demonstrates its use as a new carbon resource from which high-value products can be obtained,” says Dr Stephen Wallace, principal investigator of the study and UK Research and Innovation (UKRI) Future Leaders Fellow from the University of Edinburgh.
Approximately 50.000.000 t of PET waste are produced annually, causing serious economic and environmental impacts. PET recycling is possible, but existing processes create products that continue to contribute to plastic pollution worldwide.