Making vanilla flavoring out of plastic waste
Using bacteria, researchers in Scotland have succeeded in making vanillin out of plastic waste. This opens up the possibility of transforming plastic waste into a product that is in demand all over the world, thereby benefiting both the environment and food producers.
Wednesday, October 27, 2021
Plastic waste is becoming an increasingly serious problem for the environment. It takes several hundred years for polyethylene terephthalate (PET), which is used to make plastic bottles, to completely decompose. So more and more plastic is ending up in the world’s oceans, posing a threat to numerous living creatures. As the Swiss newspaper “20 Minuten” reported, Scottish researchers have found a beneficial way to use plastic waste. They have modified E. coli bacteria to transform the terephthalic acid found in PET into vanillin. Vanillin is the flavoring agent contained in the vanilla bean, and is used primarily in the food and cosmetic industries, but also in the production of herbicides, defoaming agents and detergents. In terms of sheer quantity, vanillin is the most sought-after flavoring in the world.
Megatrend: Resource scarcity, Ecology
The potential of synthetic biology
An experiment showed that the bacteria the researchers had modified in the laboratory transformed 79 percent of the terephthalic acid found in discarded plastic bottles into vanillin. According to the scientists, this substance is suitable for human consumption, although more evidence is still needed. They point out that this method is the first use of a biological system to transform plastic waste materials into a valuable industrial chemical. This highlights the great potential of synthetic biology with respect to sustainability and plastics recycling.
Recycling agricultural waste materials
The recycling of waste materials is also a topic of discussion in agriculture. Reusing plant waste products makes environmental sense, and is part of resource-efficient production. The Clariant company has developed a process for making biofuels from straw or bagasse (residue from sugar production). The benefits are obvious, as such fuels produce 95 percent fewer greenhouse gas emissions than traditional fossil fuels, and their production does not require burning food crops or appropriating arable land.
Milk from the laboratory - sustainability is decisive
Milk from the lab is on the rise. Nestlé sells artificial milk in the USA, and a Swiss entrepreneur produces cheese in the laboratory. This is reported by the SonntagsZeitung. According to a survey by the medium, most consumers are willing to try milk alternatives produced using genetic engineering. The differences in taste compared to conventional milk are said to be minimal. However, the sustainability of the products is crucial, which includes resource efficiency and price.
Will the food of the future be grown in a laboratory?
The global food system is currently responsible for approximately one third of all greenhouse gas emissions. Animal products, which require a large amount of land to produce, are one of the major contributors. For this reason, a number of start-ups are working eagerly on alternative protein products that require fewer resources and no animals, and are produced using industrial processes. After all, to feed more than nine billion people, all options and technologies have to be considered.
Sugar in Switzerland: Considering all aspects
The federal government has pledged to reduce sugar intake in Switzerland. Going forward, a wide variety of food products are to contain less sugar, or be labeled with their sugar content. This has put sugar beet cultivation under pressure. Yet “the dose makes the poison” also applies to sugar consumption, so there may still be a meaningful future for sugar beet growing in Switzerland.
The ‘pepper patent’ controversy
The European Patent Office (EPO) has dismissed an appeal by various NGOs against a patent on a bell pepper held by Syngenta. This has been reported in various media. However, the furor whipped up by the media in connection with these plant-related patents is unwarranted. There is no need for plant breeders to fear a ‘patent trap.’ On the contrary, patents promote transparency and help to drive progress.