Nature’s fight against plastic pollution: Algae for plastic biodegradation and bioplastics production
The increased global demand for plastic materials has led to severe plastic waste pollution, particularly to the marine environment. This critical issue affects both sea life and human beings since microplastics can enter the food chain and cause several health impacts. Plastic recycling, chemical treatments, incineration and landfill are apparently not the optimum solutions for reducing plastic pollution. Hence, this review presents two newly identified environmentally friendly approaches, plastic biodegradation and bioplastic production using algae, to solve the increased global plastic waste. Algae, particularly microalgae, can degrade the plastic materials through the toxins systems or enzymes synthesized by microalgae itself while using the plastic polymers as carbon sources. Utilizing algae for plastic biodegradation has been critically reviewed in this paper to demonstrate the mechanism and how microplastics affect the algae. On the other hand, algae-derived bioplastics have identical properties and characteristics as petroleum-based plastics, while remarkably being biodegradable in nature. This review provides new insights into different methods of producing algae-based bioplastics (e.g., blending with other materials and genetic engineering), followed by the discussion on the challenges and further research direction to increase their commercial feasibility.