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Pouring value into plastic waste streams

Plastics are an important material in our economy, but there are serious downsides for the environment and our health. Plastic adversely affects all ecosystems and microplastics are of particular concern to our health. Increasing plastic waste recycling is a top priority in Europe’s transition towards a circular economy. The EU-funded MIX-UP project is addressing the market needs for new sustainable routes to valorize plastics waste streams. As such, plastic mixtures with five of the top six fossil-based recalcitrant plastics (PP, PE, PUR, PET and PS) and biodegradable plastics such as PLA and PHA, will be used as feedstock for microbial transformations. Not only will this increase the recycling quota, it will add value to poorly recycled plastic waste streams.

We use bacteria for MIXed plastics biodegradation and UPcycling!

The main idea of MIX-UP is to showcase a novel approach to the circularity of the plastic life cycle and therefore addresses one of the greatest challenges of our time: the establishment of a circular (bio)-economy for plastics. The continuing demand for plastic products, the lack of appropriate recycling and the ubiquitous pollution of the environment with plastic waste pose a global challenge. An ambitious vision and considerable efforts are required to change the traditional value chain of plastics to a sustainable one, based on biodegradable plastics. The ground-breaking objective is to use plastic waste as a valuable resource for the future by a sustainable, biotechnological conversion of unsorted, mixed plastics into ecological, value-added biomaterials using heavily engineered enzyme mixtures and mixed microbial communities.

  MIX-UP Concept Copyright: © iAMB

The concept of MIX-UP shown in the figure is categorized into various main methodologies and will be worked on in more detail, distributed among the participating EU and international partners:

Enzyme production and mixed enzymatic hydrolysis of mixed plastics

Microbial plastics monomer metabolism

Microbial depolymerization of plastic polymers

Valorization of mixed plastics monomers to biopolymers

Product diversification and separation

Universal tools for biodegradation of mixed plastics and mixed culture maintenance

At the iAMB we not only work on the microbial degradation of plastics, but also on the synthesis and secretion of (novel) biopolymers. Following challenges receive special attention from our side:

  • Metabolization of monomers from recalcitrant polymers and biopolymers
  • Generation of mixed cultures for mixed plastic monomers metabolism
  • Development of a bacterial “community police” for selective degradation of depolymerization products (e.g., toxins)
  • Biosynthesis of components for green plastics
  • Synthetic consortia for bio-plastics production

Further Information on https://www.mix-up.eu/ with special reference to the regularly updated MIX-UP Blog

Staff: Dr. Till Tiso Dr. Hendrik Ballerstedt Gina Welsing Birger Wolter