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Plastic bottles in a trash pile

Improving plastic waste management

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Funding Year: 2021

Research Areas: Sustainability


Globally, 359 million tons of plastic waste are generated annually. It is estimated that 150-200 million tons accumulate in the natural environment each year. Much plastic waste is single-use and, thanks to its engineered durability, will persist for thousands if not millions of years. This project aims to radically change the way plastic waste is processed via a new biotechnology paradigm: engineering highly active enzymes and microbes capable of breaking down polyesters in a decentralized network of “living” waste receptacles. In parallel, the researchers are building a quantitative model of human behaviors involved in plastic recycling and are in active dialogue with leading apparel companies, as they explore options for a start-up venture that can scale and bring the technology to market for consumer adoption.

Learn more about the Environmental Venture Projects grant program and other funded projects.

Principal Investigators:

Jennifer Cochran (Bioengineering)

Craig Criddle (Civil and Environmental Engineering)

Erin MacDonald (Mechanical Engineering)

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