Global plastic pollution has been a concern for people worldwide. With a growing number of plastic production and no possible solution available for addressing the issue, the science community is desperately looking for solutions. Scientists are constantly performing research involving ways to transform or dispose of plastic wastes. And everyone is keen on these studies.
A recent discovery has shown that plastics can be turned into vanillin. Vanillin is a molecule found in normal vanilla flavoring. It is responsible for the taste and smell characteristics found in vanilla extracted from vanilla beans.
Researchers Stephen Wallace and Joanna Sadler of the University of Edinburgh researched this study. In the study, they found that Escherichia coli (E. Coli) can help to degrade polyethylene terephthalate polymer (PET) into vanillin. Polyethylene terephthalate polymer is one of the most used forms of plastic in industries. So if this research finds further success it can be one of the most creative solutions to the current plastic problem.
The process of turning plastics into vanillin starts by chemically recycling plastic into terephthalic acid and ethylene glycol. The scientists then introduce the E.Coli to start the microbial fermentation process and turn terephthalic acid into synthetic vanillin. The success rate of the process is about 79%.
But concerns have been raised as researchers Wallace and Sadler are unsure if the vanillin produced by E. Coli meets the regulatory standards for food consumption. However, vanillin production from plastic is not only a solution for the plastic waste concern. Since the demand for vanilla is growing every year, this solution will act as a relief to the food and beauty industry.
The price of vanilla beans and vanilla extract is sky-high. Due to high demands for vanilla and low supply the producers and consumers are suffering. And the demands are still estimated to grow. In 2018, the global vanilla market was $ 510 million but it is expected to grow and reach $735 million in 2026. Demand for Frozen desserts and bakery products are responsible for the high demands for vanilla.
However, synthetic vanillin production is has been around for a long time. If you think making vanilla from plastic is gross, then think again. Synthetic vanillin is more commonly available than natural extract. They can make vanillin out of many other wastes such as cow manure, coal tar, and wood pulp. So, vanilla made from plastic seems pretty tame.
Wallace also believes that this research is paving the way to transform plastic waste into something with high value. “Rather than repurposing plastic bottles into shoes or clothes, we are changing them into something more valuable.”
The public is now keen on this latest discovery. If further research is successful, then we will find a new solution to disposing of plastic waste. And ending global plastic pollution.
Maybe we will be able to eat vanilla ice cream and apply vanilla-scented body lotion made from plastic. Let’s hope this is a solution for our plastic pollution.