Here's an interesting article about a New Haven, Connecticut company called Protein Evolution, and why they may have an approach that could finally make recycling plastic economically viable: Protein Evolution Recycles Plastics Quickly — “1 Million Years Of Evolution In 1 Day.” That would be fantastic, if it pans out, and its own technology doesn't contain worse side effects.
Protein Evolution [announced] it has created a process that can break down plastic waste into its component parts, which can then be reused to make new plastics. Until now, it has been cheaper (assuming no cost is assigned to the damage done to the environment by plastic waste) to make new plastic than to recycle existing plastic. Protein Evolution says its technology may be able to break that economic imbalance and help the chemical industry transition to a lower carbon, circular economy.
Leveraging recent breakthroughs in natural science and artificial intelligence, the company designs enzymes to break down end-of-life textile and plastic waste into the building blocks that make up new textile and plastic products. This proprietary process is the first of its kind designed to scale up into volume production. It creates a cost effective solution with immediate applications for the petrochemical industry, global consumer goods companies, textile manufacturers, and others that are looking to significantly reduce their reliance on fossil fuels.
“Nature has already produced a bacteria [sic] that can break down plastic for emission free recycling, but it’s extremely slow. If we had a few million years to wait for evolution to run its course, we’d have something much more efficient,” says co-founder Scott Stankey. “Our technology condenses a million year evolutionary process into a single day — helping us create an affordable, scalable and effective solution to revolutionize the plastic waste industry.”
On the other hand, I hate the article's snide political attitude:
Since we as humans are incapable of devising an economic system that is not based exclusively on profits or which includes environmental harm as one of the factors in calculating profitability, the only solution is to devise a process that recycles plastics more cheaply than making new plastic products.
Devising a process that makes recycling plastics economical is NOT a last-ditch, second-rate solution; it is the BEST solution. An economic system based on profits is not bad, it's what you want: If this process makes recycling plastic more profitable than pulling oil out of the ground, that profit motive will have people voluntarily cleaning up beaches, and companies eagerly pulling plastic waste out of the ocean.
And it would mean local governments could stop evading the question (or straight-out lying) about what actually happens to the materials we think are being recycled.