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Queen’s researchers moving forward with plastic waste breakdown project

Photo by Erik Mclean, via Queen’s University.

Genomics Canada has granted a team of Queen’s researchers $7.9 million to support a new project exploring a microbial platform for breaking down waste plastic, which can then be repurposed to produce recycled products.

The project will identify and engineer bacteria and enzymes that can break down plastics into recyclable components or into valuable fine chemicals that can be used for other purposes, according to a release from Queen’s University. The multidisciplinary team working on this project includes Laurence Yang (Chemical Engineering), David Zechel (Chemistry), George diCenzo (Biology), and James McLellan (Chemical Engineering). The team said if plastics can be made from recycled or biodegradable components, it would facilitate the transition from a linear use to a circular use model—bringing the world closer to a future without plastic waste.

“Our team of 21 investigators from six universities are developing a systems approach to tackling plastic waste: from genomes to new enzymatic processes, fully integrated with environmental, social, economic, and policy research to facilitate uptake,” said Dr. Laurence Yang, principal Investigator on the project, chemical engineering professor at Queen’s University. “Our open science framework will allow us to rapidly share knowledge with diverse private and public sector partners, as we collectively innovate toward a zero-waste future where plastics benefit society without causing a negative impact on the environment.”

Additionally, a circular economy for plastics could lead to billions of dollars in savings globally, the university said. In Canada, 2.8 million tons of plastic wind up in landfills every year. It has been estimated that diverting 90 per cent of Canada’s plastic waste from landfills to recycling can reduce 1.8 million tons of CO2 equivalents per year in greenhouse gas emissions, save $500 million/year in costs, and create 42,000 jobs in new industries.

The project funding was announced as part of an investment of over $60 million from Genome Canada, provincial and federal partners, universities, and industry collaborators for eight large-scale applied research projects across Canada.

Read more on the Queen’s University website.

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