About this Research Topic
The demand for fossil derived plastic has grown by 300% between 1999 and 2019 i.e., current production is ~ 320 million tons per year. The production of plastics is projected to release 50 times higher carbon emissions (e.g., 56 billion tons of CO2 eq.) that of all the combined coal power stations in USA by 2050. Several features of synthetic plastics such as high durability, corrosion and chemical resistance, lightweight and low cost have made it a favorable material for industrial and household use. According to the latest report, 9 million tons of plastics end up the ocean every year and only 9% of produced plastics are recycled while the rest are disposed-off in landfills. They undergo degradation through combined physical, chemical or biological processes leading to release of microplastics, which enter the food chain and biomagnify. The microplastics usually have different physio-chemical properties than native plastics, which makes plastics complex to study and challenging to understand their interactions with the environment. The World Health Organization urged scientists to find a route to reduce plastics pollution and replace conventional plastics with biodegradable plastics to mainly reduce the environmental burdens and human exposures.
Microbes are able to produce bioplastics from sugars (food-derived such as sugarcane juice or corn, or lignocellulosic biomass-derived after pretreatment), and from greenhouse gases (e.g., CH4, CO2, etc.) under fermentation conditions. However, the bioplastic production is meagre - 2.05 million tons (0.6%) in 2017 and forecasted to reach 2.44 million tons by 2023.
Considering future demands for plastics and the problems associated with the disposal of synthetic plastics, it is very important to develop a technology to repurpose the synthetic plastics as bioplastic and reduce the synthetic plastic usage. Re-incorporating the end-of-life plastics into the value chain is a key challenge. Developing “hybrid-plastic”, i.e. blending bioplastic with synthetic polymers or introducing a complete valorization of synthetic polymer as bioplastic, seems to be an interesting and feasible approach. This requires fundamental understanding of microbial interaction with synthetic plastics, surface modification and pre-treatment of plastics for improved access for microbial attack, specific bioactive enzymes required for the mineralization, the environmental conditions for efficient conversion and processing engineering approaches that are lacking.
In this Research Topic, we aim to compile Original Research and Review articles that are addressing the following themes (but not limited to):
(a) Fate of plastics and microplastic contaminations in the environment
(b) Monitoring methods and tools for microplastics in the environment
(c) Pre-treatment methods for synthetic plastics and process requirements
(d) Environmental Microbiomes and Plastic interactions (lab experiments)
(e) Multi-omics approach for screening of microbes for plastic degradation
(f) Synthetic biology approaches for recycling of plastics into block monomers
(g) Key enzymes, properties and engineering for commercialization
(h) Bioplastics and hybrid-plastics production from biological systems
Keywords: Plastic, Circular Economy, Bioplastic
Important Note: All contributions to this Research Topic must be within the scope of the section and journal to which they are submitted, as defined in their mission statements. Frontiers reserves the right to guide an out-of-scope manuscript to a more suitable section or journal at any stage of peer review.