News Release - Multidisciplinary team of Queen’s researchers use genomics to rethink our approach to tackling plastic waste

News Release - Multidisciplinary team of Queen’s researchers use genomics to rethink our approach to tackling plastic waste

July 22, 2021


For immediate release

July 21, 2021 – A team of Queen’s researchers has received a $7.9 million grant from Genomics Canada for a new project exploring a microbial platform for breaking down waste plastic, which can then be repurposed to produce recycled products. The multidisciplinary team is made up of Laurence Yang (Chemical Engineering), David Zechel (Chemistry), George diCenzo (Biology), and James McLellan (Chemical Engineering).

This project will identify and engineer bacteria and enzymes that can break down plastics into recyclable components or into valuable fine chemicals that can be used for other purposes. If plastics can be made from recycled or biodegradable components, it would facilitate the transition from a linear use to a circular use model—bringing the world closer to a future without plastic waste.

Additionally, a circular economy for plastics could lead to billions of dollars in savings globally. In Canada, 2.8 million tons of plastic wind up in landfills every year. It has been estimated that diverting 90 per cent of Canada’s plastic waste from landfills to recycling can reduce 1.8 million tons of CO2 equivalents per year in greenhouse gas emissions, save $500 million/year in costs, and create 42,000 jobs in new industries.

The project funding was announced as part of an investment of over $60 million from Genome Canada, provincial and federal partners, universities, and industry collaborators for eight large-scale applied research projects across Canada.

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“Our team of 21 investigators from six universities are developing a systems approach to tackling plastic waste: from genomes to new enzymatic processes, fully integrated with environmental, social, economic, and policy research to facilitate uptake. Our open science framework will allow us to rapidly share knowledge with diverse private and public sector partners, as we collectively innovate toward a zero-waste future where plastics benefit society without causing a negative impact on the environment.”

(Dr. Laurence Yang, principal Investigator on the project, chemical engineering professor at Queen’s University)



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About Queen’s University

Queen’s University has a long history of scholarship, discovery, and innovation that has shaped our collective knowledge and helped address some of the world’s most pressing concerns. Home to more than 25,000 students, the university offers a comprehensive research-intensive environment with prominent strengths in physics, cancer research, geoengineering, data analytics, surveillance studies, art conservation, and mental health research. Welcoming and supporting students from all countries and backgrounds to a vibrant, safe, and supportive community is an important part of the Queen’s experience. Diverse perspectives and a wealth of experience enrich our campus and our community. A core part of our mission is to engage our students, staff, and faculty in international learning and research, both at home and abroad.

Queen’s University is ranked first in Canada and fifth in the world in the 2021 Time Higher Education Impact Rankings. The rankings measured over 1,200 post-secondary institutions on their work to advance the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).


Plastic waste photo - By Erik Mclean.jpg