Context:

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

Relevance:

Prelims, GS-III: Environment and Ecology (Environmental Pollution and Degradation), GS-III: Science and Technology

Dimensions of the Article:

  1. About Plastic pollution in India
  2. About the discovered alga species that can digest plastic

About Plastic pollution in India

  • India generates 9.46 million tonnes of plastic waste annually (according to a study by Un-Plastic Collective (UPC)) of which 40% plastic waste goes uncollected (as per the environment ministry).
  • [A Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB) report (2018-19) puts the total annual plastic waste generation in India at only 3.3 million metric tonnes per year, which is still humongous.]
  • Hence, only 60% of the plastic used in India is collected and recycled and a large proportion of Plastic waste is continuing to accumulate and leading to adverse environmental impacts.
  • 43% of the plastic products produced are used for packaging, with a majority of them being single-use – hence, they end up being discarded and accumulated as waste very easily.
  • The usual means of disposal of plastic waste involves incineration, land-filling and recycling. These methods have limitations and also sometimes produce side-effects that are hazardous to the environment. Hence there has been growing emphasis on biodegradation methods that are safe and environment friendly.
  • Plastic is a huge problem as it is so cheap and convenient that it has replaced all other materials from the packaging industry leading to production at unprecedented levels – but it takes hundreds of years to disintegrate.

About the discovered alga species that can digest plastic

  • The alga identified is microalga Uronema africanum Borge which is a species of microalgae that is commonly found in Africa, Asia and Europe.
  • The microalga was found to produce enzymes, hormones, toxins such as cyanotoxins and some polysaccharides which were able to slowly degrade polyethylene into monomers which will not have harmful effect in the atmosphere.
  • The researchers are planning to collaborate with industry to take up this technology in to a pilot scale and finally large-scale study.
  • The development gains significance given that the identified algae could be used as an agent of biodegradation of plastic sheets (Low-density polyethylene is highly resistant to degradation) and thus it offers a solution to Plastic pollution in India.

-Source: The Hindu

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