Plastic Biodegradation Through Algae Species


    In Context

    • Researchers from the University of Madras and Presidency College, Chennai, have discovered an alga species that shows promise as an agent of biodegradation of plastic sheets. 

    Key Points

    • About:
      • The alga identified is microalga Uronema africanum Borge. This is a species of microalgae that is commonly found in Africa, Asia and Europe.
      • The isolated algae Uronema africanum produced enzymes, hormones, and some polysaccharides which slowly degraded (the sheets), and the structural integrity of the polymer (breaks down) and disintegrates into monomers.
      • Abrasions were seen on the surface of the polyethylene sheet at different magnifications.
        • Low-density polyethylene is highly resistant to degradation.
      • The study concluded that the microalga has initiated degradation of the polyethylene sheet within 30 days of incubation.
    • Significance:
      • The identified algae could be used as an agent of biodegradation of plastic sheets and thus it offers a solution to Plastic pollution in India.

    Plastic pollution in India

    • About:
      • According to the Central Pollution Control Board’s annual report for the year 2011-12, the plastic waste generated in a year amounted to 5.6 million metric tonnes. 
      • Only 60% of the plastic used in India was collected and recycled.
      • The metros alone contributed some 21.2% of the total waste, led by Delhi, followed by Chennai, Kolkata and Mumbai.
    • Disposal of Plastic Waste in India:
      • The usual means of disposal of plastic waste involves incineration, land-filling and recycling. 
      • Many conventional methods of polyethylene degradation include:
        • UV photooxidation, 
        • thermal oxidation, incineration,
        • chemical oxidation and 
        • landfill is being practised
      • These methods have limitations and also sometimes produce side effects that are hazardous to the environment.  
      • Hence there has been an emphasis on biodegradation methods that are safe and environment friendly.

    Some Initiatives in tackling Plastic Pollution

    • Swachh Bharat Mission
    • India Plastics Pact
    • Project REPLAN
    • Un-Plastic Collective
    • GoLitter Partnerships Project
    • India has won global acclaim for its “Beat Plastic Pollution” resolution

    declared on World Environment Day 2018(in which India was the global host), under which it pledged to eliminate single-use plastic by 2022

    • At the fourth United Nations Environment Assembly in 2019, India piloted a resolution on addressing pollution caused by single-use plastic products.

    Central Pollution Control Board

    • is a statutory organisation under the Ministry of Environment, Forests and Climate Change. 
    • Established in 1974, under the Water (Prevention and Control of Pollution) Act and later entrusted with functions and responsibilities under the Air (Prevention and Control of Pollution) Act, 1981.
    • Functions:
      • To promote cleanliness of streams and wells in different areas of the States by prevention, control and abatement of water pollution.
      • To improve the quality of air and to prevent, control or abate air pollution in the country.
      • It coordinates the activities of the State Pollution Control Boards by providing technical assistance and guidance and also resolves disputes among them.

    Source: TH