Is plastic recycling at a turning point? Meet Emmanuel Ladent, CEO of Carbios, a Clermont-Ferrand, France-based company that has developed an enzymatic plastic recycling technology that promises to make plastic a circular material with 95% yields, comparable to aluminum. The Carbios technology recycles polyethylene terephthalate, or clear and colored PET, better known as plastic #1, which is the basis for making billions of single-use bottles and thermoform containers for produce, as well as the polyester used in clothing. Carbios’ process requires no sorting of PET and polyester, relying on much lower temperatures than mechanical recycling, so it requires less energy and water. Emmanuel explains that the Carbios process produces two monomers, the chemical basis for making new PET, which can be recycled many times in contrast to the two or three cycles today’s PET recycling can deliver.
Plastic recycling has stumbled and greenwashed its way through a slow evolution and created a lot of distrust among consumers and governments. Chemical, molecular, and enzymatic plastic recycling have all appeared in the last several years with promises that plastic can be turned from a linear waste-creating system that fills landfills with pollution to a circular economy that keeps all, or virtually all, of the plastic we use in circulation without the need for virgin plastic made from oil. If we can recycle PET efficiently, and create the infrastructure and consumer habits that support recycling PET at global scales, it would be a huge step forward to a circular economy. You can learn more about Carbios at carbios.com.
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This podcast originally aired on March 27, 2023.