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A better fate for plastic bottles

Using microbes to convert PET into a high-value plastic could encourage more recycling

A new recycling process enlists the help of bacteria to turn the ubiquitous plastic PET into a biodegradable plastic that could replace the cellophane in food packaging.

The method, described in a paper posted online and set to appear in Environmental Science & Technology, could encourage more recycling of the billions of plastic bottles consumed every year.

PET, or polyethylene terephthalate, is one of the most familiar kinds of plastic: Billions of pounds of PET bottles are sold every year in the United States. But less than a quarter of those are recycled, according to a 2006 study
by the trade group the National Association for PET Container Resources .

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