Solving Climate Change

Do we need to rethink our approach to tackling plastic waste?

What can genomics teach us about the breakdown of plastic?

Plastic can be repurposed to produce biodegradable products, and Ontario Genomics is facilitating the transition from a linear use to a circular use model—bringing the world closer to a future without plastic waste.

Harnessing Genomics Technologies to Upcycle Plastics for a Zero-Waste Future

Plastic is a widely used, cheap and effective way to store and transport goods. However, its popularity, especially for single-use products, has made it a pervasive environmental contaminant.

Over 29,000 tons of plastic leak into the Canadian environment and oceans annually, creating severe problems, which include the death of 100,000 marine mammals annually. Another 2.8 million tons of plastic are sent to Canadian landfills, creating a latent problem for future generations, with only 9% of plastic being recycled.

Despite this, demand continues to grow, and Canadian plastic production is increasing, with an additional 4.8 million tons being produced every year. However, with a growing awareness of the environmental impacts of plastic, governments and manufacturers are working towards a zero-plastic waste future. Under this paradigm, plastics must be made with recycled or biodegradable components. For this to succeed, government, the public, and industry will all need to play a role.

To help drive this paradigm shift, Ontario Genomics has invested in a project led by Dr. Laurence Yang and his team, who are working on an economically viable innovation that harnesses genomics technologies to recover value from waste plastic.

In this project, a Canadian-led team consisting of multiple universities, governments, and industries will drive a shift to a zero-plastic waste future by creating a circular economy for plastics.

This team will identify and engineer bacteria and enzymes that can break down plastics into recyclable components or valuable fine chemicals more effectively than chemical conversion-based technologies. Additionally, they will conduct a holistic investigation into the impact of these new plastic biotechnologies on society, the economy, and the environment.

“Many of our investigators are recognized internationally for pioneering research for circular plastics economies. Our open science model, of openly publishing while not patenting deliverables, has lowered barriers to forming partnerships with industry and municipalities. As such, Open Plastic has attracted many additional industry partners and even private donations in the past year. Open Plastic is continuing its mission of open innovation to support clean growth with zero waste in Canada’s $35B plastic manufacturing industry and the many vital sectors that depend on it including food, apparel, and construction.”
-Dr. Laurence Yang, Project Lead, Queen’s University

Plastic biotechnologies could help revolutionize Canadian plastic production and use. Preliminary estimates indicate recycling could save Canada $500 million annually in costs and create 42,000 jobs in new industries.

The market for recovered waste plastic in the textiles sector alone is over $600 million per year. We could also save 1.8 million tons of CO2 equivalents per year in greenhouse gas emissions, ensuring that plastics continue to contribute to the economy without adversely impacting the environment.

Our team at Ontario Genomics is proud to continue to help build Ontario’s genomics infrastructure facilitating a future without plastic waste. Ontario Genomics exists to create industry-led partnerships, to commercialize made-in-Ontario technologies that create a circular economy and generate jobs in every corner of the province.

All Funded Projects 2021-2022 

Congratulations to all our other successful project leaders.