United Kingdom pledges new funding to battle plastic pollution

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The researchers are now working on improving the enzyme so it can be used to break down plastics in an industrial setting.

From the funding announced by May, £25 million ($35.8 million) will be used to help researchers investigate the issue of marine plastic from a scientific, economic and social perspective.

Prime Minister Theresa May has pledged £61.4 million to tackle marine plastic pollution through a global alliance of Commonwealth states.

The worldwide team, led by Professor John McGeehan of the University of Portsmouth, UK, tested the evolutionary process of the enzyme, inadvertently discovering that they had improved the capabilities of the enzyme in breaking down PET bottles. Using intense X-rays at the Diamond Light Source synchrotron facility in Harwell, Oxfordshire, the team inadvertently created a powerful new version of the protein.

"That's really exciting because that means that there's potential to optimise the enzyme even further".

PET, patented as a plastic in the 1940s, has not existed in nature for long, so the team set out to determine how an enzyme called PETase evolved and if it might be possible to improve it by determining its structure.

"Enzymes are non-toxic, biodegradable and can be produced in large amounts by microorganisms", said Oliver Jones, a Melbourne University chemistry expert.

To further support the work of the CCOA, £16.4 million will be used to improve waste management at a national and a city level. "[But] this is certainly a step in a positive direction".

"The amended rules lay down that the phasing out of Multilayered Plastics (MLP) is now applicable to MLPs that are non-recyclable, or non-energy recoverable, or with no alternate use", the statement said. The new enzyme indicates a way to recycle clear plastic bottles back into clear plastic bottles, which could slash the need to produce new plastic.

Meanwhile, The UK recently joined a growing list of European nations to introduce a deposit-return scheme on plastic and other material containers.

"We are joining forces with our Commonwealth partners, bringing together global expertise to stop plastics waste from entering oceans - and by matching pound-for-pound the United Kingdom public's passionate response to the issue, we can make our shared ambition for clean oceans a reality". And according to the Earth Institute at Columbia University, only 9.5 percent of plastic is recycled and there are already 165 million tons of plastic debris in our oceans.

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