Researchers Want to Convert Plastic Waste into Vanilla Flavoring. But Will It Really Be Safe to Eat?

By B.N. Frank

No doubt that discarded plastic is a huge problem (see 1, 2, 3).  The good news is that there are people trying to reduce this problem.  This includes a girl who makes clothes from recycled plastic and donates part of the proceeds to animal conservation.

Unfortunately, there are also people offering solutions that could create bigger problems.  For example, there are researchers who want to turn plastic into jet fuel and critics aren’t enthusiastic about this at all.  There are also researchers who want to turn plastic waste into vanilla flavoring.  But how many people would knowingly eat anything flavored with recycled plastic waste even if it’s deemed safe by regulatory agencies like the Food and Drug Administration (FDA)?  After all, the FDA has a long history of NOT protecting the public in a timely manner (see 1, 2, 3, 4).

From Newser:

Here’s the Tastiest Suggestion Yet on Plastic Waste

Researchers convert it into vanilla flavoring

By John Johnson,  Newser Staff
Posted Jun 15, 2021 12:21 PM CDT

(Newser) – Plastic waste is a problem. A big, big problem. Seemingly unrelated fact: Lots of people love vanilla. Scientists at the University of Edinburgh in Scotland have managed to combine these two ideas to come up with one of the most novel suggestions yet for reducing plastic garbage. They figured out a way to convert old plastic into vanilla flavoring that can be eaten, reports the Guardian. Researchers unleashed lab-engineered E. coli to transform terephthalic acid into vanillin, the compound that gives vanilla its distinctive taste and smell, per ZME Science. That acid, or TA, is a molecule derived from PET (polyethylene terephthalate), the polymer commonly used to make plastic bottles, bags, and other products. The researchers got there through a series of chemical reactions spelled out in the journal Green Chemistry.

“Our work challenges the perception of plastic being a problematic waste and instead demonstrates its use as a new carbon resource from which high-value products can be obtained,” says the university’s Dr. Stephen Wallace in a news release. The first experiment—in which they converted a degraded water bottle into vanillin—proved the principle, and researchers will now try to tweak the process to make the conversion more efficient, per the Guardian. They also need to conduct further research to prove that the resulting vanillin is indeed safe for human consumption. The work builds on previous research in which scientists engineered a “super-enzyme” to feast on plastic in the lab. The Edinburgh study goes a step further by converting the resulting product into a potentially valuable commodity. (Read more plastic stories.)

Also noteworthy – some environmental groups have been identified as NOT doing enough about plastic.  Let’s hope that changes.

Image: Pixabay

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