Scientists are using bacteria to convert plastic into vanilla flavoring

Researchers have found a way to attack plastic pollution and create vanilla flavoring in the process by using genetically engineered bacteria.

The research, published in the Green Chemistry journal June 10, said the use of the bacteria marks the first “biological upcycling of post-consumer plastic waste into vanillin.”

Vanillin is an organic compound that comes from vanilla abstract and creates the aroma and taste of vanilla. It can be made synthetically and may be found in cosmetics, ice cream and soda.

Researchers used engineered E. Coli to turn an acid found in plastic bottles into vanillin, a process that could be used to combat the global plastic waste crisis.

Plastic usage has increased over the past 50 years. It's estimated that people use up to 10 million plastic bags per minute worldwide, according to the United Nations Environment Programme.

The effects of plastic in the environment are felt on land and in the ocean. An estimated 8 million tons of plastic waste enter the ocean each year, and by 2050, that plastic will outweigh all of the ocean’s fish, according to Conservation International.

'If we're not up there cleaning up this threat, nobody is': Team hauls more than 47 tons of marine debris out of Pacific Ocean

'A public safety risk': Plastic bags, forks and containers are everywhere during the pandemic, increasing pollution

U.S. landfills received 27 million tons of plastic in 2018, and only 8.7% of plastic was recycled the same year, the United States Environmental Protection Agency reported.

“Our work challenges the perception of plastic being a problematic waste and instead demonstrates its use as a new carbon resource from which high-value products can be made,” Stephen Wallace, one of the authors of the study, told the Guardian.

The study said the new method is a strong economic incentive due to plastic losing 95% of its value after one use, causing a $110 billion loss to the global market each year.

“The global plastic waste crisis is now recognized as one of the most pressing environmental issues facing our planet, prompting urgent calls for new technologies to enable a circular plastics economy,” the study said.

Follow reporter Asha Gilbert @Coastalasha. Email:

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Scientists convert plastic waste into vanilla flavoring using bacteria