Scientists Figured Out How to Turn Plastic Bottles Into Something You Can Eat

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Today in science: Plastic bottles can be turned into vanilla flavoring for all your baked good needs. In the ​Green Chemistry​ journal, it was reported that University of Edinburgh scientists figured out how to use genetically modified E. coli bacteria to turn plastic bottles into vanillin (the main chemical compound in vanilla bean extract).

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What's even more surprising is that, after more experiments and tests, scientists believe this plastic bottle vanilla will be safe for humans to consume. "Using microbes to turn waste plastics, which are harmful to the environment, into an important commodity and platform molecule with broad applications in cosmetics and food is a beautiful demonstration of green chemistry," said publishing editor at the Royal Society of Chemistry, Dr. Ellis Crawford, according to the university.

The University of Edinburgh states that about 50 million tons of PET (polyethylene terephthalate or lightweight plastic) waste is produced every single year. So the ability to turn plastic waste into something we can actually consume and reuse is huge. According to Joanna Sadler — the study's first author and a Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council discovery fellow — this marks the first time people have used "a biological system to upcycle plastic waste into a valuable industrial chemical."

We can't wait to see how this finding develops in the future. And who knows — maybe we'll be consuming plastic bottle vanilla within the next few years.

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Anna is a Los Angeles-based writer and editor who covers lifestyle and design content for Hunker. She's written for Apartment Therapy, the L.A. Times, Forge, and more. She previously worked as the lifestyle editor at HelloGiggles and deputy editor at So Yummy. Her email: anna.gragert@hunker.com