The volume of plastic waste produced by humans reaches new terrifying records every year, which is why the scientific community insists on looking for new ways of recycling.
Plastic literally drowns the planet: at the bottom of the ocean alone there are more than 14 million tons of plastic. Each year 8 million tons are thrown into the sea, seriously impacting marine ecosystems and impacting terrestrial ones: particles of this material have even been found on Everest.
Without going any further, a relatively recent study revealed that we eat 100,000 plastic microparticles a year, which is equivalent to gobbling up one credit card per week.
For animals, excess plastic is devastating: its pieces obstruct the throat or digestive tract, often causing death from starvation or malnutrition.
It is important to find new ways to do away with plastic, develop alternative biomaterials to it and efficiently recycle what is in circulation, a race against time to stop harming nature.
In this area, a new project carried out by researchers from the École polytechnique fédérale de Lausanne (EPFL) in Switzerland stands out, the results of which have been reflected in an article in the journal Advanced Materials.
The pioneering way of recycling is inspired by how nature naturally breaks down the components of organic polymers present in the environment.
“A protein is like a pearl necklace, where each pearl is an amino acid”
This is how Simone Giaveri, a materials scientist at the École polytechnique fédérale de Lausanne, explains it. Proteins in organic polymers are constantly breaking down and reassembling. The way amino acids are broken down and reconfigured suggests a potential strategy for recycling synthetic polymers.
“Each pearl has a different color, and the sequence of colors determines the structure of the thread and, consequently, its properties. In nature, protein chains break into constituent amino acids and cells rejoin these amino acids to form new proteins “. In other words, they create pearl necklaces with rearranged colors.
Those responsible for the project have baptized it as NacRe, or recycling of circular economy inspired by nature.
In laboratory tests, the team was able to divide selected proteins into amino acids and then assemble them into new proteins with different structures and uses.
One of the cases allowed convert silk proteins to green fluorescent protein, a brilliant tracer used in biomedical research. The quality of the proteins remains stable despite the process.
Natural mechanisms can be applied to plastics, although Consideration should be given to the substantial differences between natural and artificial polymers. “It will require a radically different mindset,” says EPFL materials scientist Francesco Stellacci. .
Researchers estimate that over a 70-year lifespan, a person throws away about 2 metric tons of plastic on average. Multiplying by the growing population, the results are breathtaking.
“In the future, sustainability will mean taking upcycling to the extreme, putting together many different objects and recycling the mix to produce a different new material every day,” says Stellacci. “Nature already does this.” At the moment, his focus is still on,
This article was published in Business Insider Spain by Andrea Núñez-Torrón Stock.