Upcycling Plastics with Genomics for a Zero-Waste Future

Over 29,000 tons of plastic leak into the Canadian environment and oceans annually, creating severe environmental problems, including killing 100,000 marine mammals annually. Another 2.8 million tons of plastic are sent to Canadian landfills, which creates a latent problem for future generations, with only 9% of plastic being recycled.

With growing awareness of the detrimental impacts of plastic, governments and manufacturers are working towards a zero-plastic waste future. Under this paradigm, plastics will be made with recycled or biodegradable components. In this project, a Canadian-led team consisting of multiple universities, governments, and industries will drive a shift to a zero-plastic waste future by harnessing genomics technologies to create a circular economy for plastics.

This team will identify and engineer bacteria and enzymes that can break down plastics into recyclable components or valuable fine chemicals more effectively than chemical conversion-based technologies. Additionally, they will conduct a holistic investigation into the impact of these new plastic biotechnologies on society, the economy, and the environment.

Preliminary estimates indicate recycling could save Canada $500 million annually in costs and create 42,000 jobs in new industries. The market for recovered waste plastic in the textiles sector alone is over $600 million per year. We could also save 1.8 million tons of CO2 equivalents per year in greenhouse gas emissions, ensuring that plastics continue to contribute to the economy without adversely impacting the environment.

“To reach zero plastic waste in Canada by 2030, the Open Plastic consortium will develop novel microbiological technology to support the breakdown of plastic waste into marketable recycled products. Our open science framework will empower trainees of the program and existing companies to build ventures for Canada and export.”

– Dr. Laurence Yang, Assistant Professor, Queen’s National Scholar in Systems Biology, Queen’s University.

All Awarded Projects

Related Articles