The new bacteria uses two enzymes to break down Polyethylene terephthalate (PET)—used in making plastic water bottles, clothing, and other products—into CO2 and water.
The discovery, first published in the journal Science, could herald a revolutionary breakthrough in recycling.
“If we can make use of the bacterium, we will be able to realize a recycling method that can be practiced with minimal energy and is also eco-friendly,” Professor Kohei Oda, the lead author in the study, told the Asabi Shimbun.
The bacteria was observed breaking a thin layer of PET after 6 weeks in a lab at 86 degrees Fahrenheit. The breakdown is a two-step process, where one enzyme dissolves PET into an intermediary substance, which is then broken into more rudimentary molecular blocks, which eventually became CO2 and water.