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Apply microorganisms and/or enzymes to resolve end-of-life issues of plastics


Select and apply the appropriate microorganisms and/or enzymes to address one or both of the following issues:

▪ convert waste streams containing non-biodegradable polymers;

▪ remove non-biodegradable polymers from the environment.

Proposals may include tailored microorganisms and/or enzymes for co-digestion or co-fermentation of different feedstock, provided that the developed solutions result in sufficient yields in terms of: (i) breaking down the feedstock; and/or (ii) conversion into valuable products.

Proposals should address all requirements for RIA as shown in Table 3 in the Introduction of the Annual Work plan 2019 .

The technology readiness level (TRL) at the end of the project should be 4-5 for the bio-based value chain in question. Proposals should clearly state the starting and end TRLs of the key technology or technologies targeted in the project.

Industry participation in the project would be considered as an added value because it can play a supportive role to demonstrate the potential for integrating the developed concepts and technologies into current industrial landscapes or existing plants so they can be deployed more quickly and scaled up to apply industry-wide.


It is considered that proposals requesting a contribution of between EUR 2 million and EUR 5 million would be able to address this specific challenge appropriately. However, this does not preclude the submission and selection of proposals requesting other amounts.

Microorganisms and/or enzymes can be applied to biodegrade/decompose plastic waste, one of the major threats to our ecosystem. This is a key focus area to apply the concept of the circular economy, besides changing human behaviour and production systems. The plastics industry is increasingly applying eco-design principles when producing plastics, ensuring an appropriate end of life by recycling, degrading or composting. Where these principles cannot be applied (any more), industry needs to establish different systems to close the circle of plastic material in the end-of-life phase. This will avoid plastic littering land and sea and reduce plastic waste diverted to landfill or incineration. Scientists have recently found that some microbes (bacteria and fungi) have evolved the ability to break down plastics1. Other scientists have discovered plastic-eating bacteria that can break down PET2 .

Applying microorganisms and/or enzymes in the end-of-life phase of plastics could result in new feedstock for the bio-based industry. They may even be applied to all sorts of residual streams without any preliminary separation or sorting operations.

The specific challenge is to exploit the potential of microorganisms and/or enzymes to resolve end-oflife issues with plastics.

1 See:

2 See:; see also: See for example European Biotechnology – winter edition – vol. 16 2017, page 54.


▪ contribute to KPI 1 – create at least one new cross-sector interconnection in the bio-based economy;

▪ contribute to KPI 2 – set the basis for at least one new bio-based value chain;

▪ contribute to KPI 8 – validate at least one new and improved processing technology reflecting the ‘TRL gain’ since the start of the project.


▪ decrease the amount of non-biodegradable polymers sent to disposal or even discharged to the environment;

▪ in case the focus is on the removal of non-biodegradable polymers from the environment, contribute to ‘close the loop’ and thus reduce environmental impacts associated with nonbiodegradable polymers discarded in the environment;

▪ enlarge the range of feedstock able to be effectively and sustainably processed through biocatalytic systems.


▪ lay the basis to the further exploitation at higher scales of microorganisms and/or enzymes to convert currently challenging streams;

▪ increase income and business opportunities for stakeholders and actors (including primary producers) in the bio-based sectors, in particular in the waste management sector.


▪ create new job opportunities in the bio-based sector, particularly rural and/or urban areas.

TYPE OF ACTION: Research and innovation action.