You know 2020 is a mess when the words “super-enzyme” are actually a source of hope. In this case, scientists are breeding a plastic-eating enzyme that could prove useful in improving recycling and combatting plastic pollution.

Each week we summarize three pieces of news that give us hope for a greener, brighter future on Earth. Have Hopeful Headlines sent directly to your inbox by signing up for our newsletter!

New super-enzyme eats plastic bottles six times faster

By Damian Carrington, The Guardian, September 28, 2020

  • Scientists have tweaked becteria that “naturally evolved the ability to eat plastic” to make a super-enzyme that degrades the substance six times faster. The enzyme could be developed further to deal with cotton and mixed fabric clothing.
  • The original bacteria was found in a Japanese landfill in 2016 and was engineered to digest plastic in 2018. By continually linking it with other enzymes, scientists have dramatically increased the rate at which it degrades plastics.
  • From the article: The new super-enzyme works at room temperature, and (University of Portsmouth Professor John) McGeehan said combining different approaches could speed progress towards commercial use: “If we can make better, faster enzymes by linking them together and provide them to companies like Carbios, and work in partnership, we could start doing this within the next year or two.”

Why it matters: Our current recycling system is, well, hopeless. Super-enzyme technology could make more of our plastic and synthetic fibers recyclable, further reducing the need for virgin petroleum products.

GE plans big shift away from coal-fired power sector

By Anmar Frangoul, CNBC, September 22, 2020

  • Industrial giant General Electric (GE) intends to “exit the new build coal power market” and focus instead on renewable energy. GE has been a player in the coal industry for over a century.
  • From the article: GE said the shift away from new coal-fired power plants could involve divestitures, the closing of sites and “job impacts,” and would be “subject to applicable consultation requirements.”
  • GE is instead supplying Dogger Bank Wind Farm with 190 turbines. Each rotation of “the Haliade-X 13 MW turbine can produce enough electricity to power a U.K. household for over two days.”

Why it matters: GE leaving coal is like Michael Jordan leaving the NBA or Freddie Mercury leaving Queen. But, for the sake of our planet, let’s hope it sticks!

Young Forests Capture Carbon Quicker than Previously Thought

By Nancy Harris, Susan Cook-Patton, David Gibbs and Kristine Lister, World Resources Institute, September 23, 2020

  • New research by World Resources Institute and The Nature Conversancy indicates that allowing forests to naturally regenerate is a greater source of carbon sequestration that previously estimated. Natural regrowth also promotes biodiversity.
  • From the article: The results, published in Nature and available on Global Forest Watch, show that letting forests regrow naturally has the potential to absorb up to 8.9 billion metric tons of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere each year through 2050, while still maintaining native grasslands and current levels of food production. That’s the equivalent of soaking up 23% global CO2 emissions from the atmosphere every year.
  • The research found that data from the International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) underestimates carbon sequestration rates “in young forests by 32% globally, and by a full 50% for tropical forests.”

Why it matters: These are not insignificant figures! We can potentially sequester 23% of annual CO2 emissions just by doing…. nothing! And God bless the IPCC, but I hope they are indeed underestimating their carbon sequestration figures by 32% and 50%.

I say this all the time in Hopeful Headlines: nature has an incredible ability to bounce back when humans allow it to do so.

Feature photo source.