Plastic Biodegradation: Challenges and Opportunities

Living reference work entry
Part of the Handbook of Hydrocarbon and Lipid Microbiology book series (HHLM)


Plastics are extremely useful materials that have transformed our society in a myriad of ways. However, the widespread use of these materials has led to a staggering amount of plastic pollution in man-made and natural environments. The biodegradation of plastics is a key factor to reduce the impact of this plastic pollution. On the one hand, organisms are emerging that can degrade relatively recalcitrant plastics. On the other hand, biodegradable plastics are being developed that are intrinsically more amenable to microbial attack. In this chapter we provide an overview of the natural fates of these two types of plastics, the molecular bonds that occur in them, and the enzymatic activities associated with their degradation. Finally, an outlook is provided for the biotechnological utilization of plastics waste as a substrate, either using these enzymes or through thermochemical pretreatment.



The authors have received funding from the European Union’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme under grant agreement no. 633962 for the project P4SB.


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Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Institute of Applied Microbiology (iAMB)RWTH Aachen UniversityAachenGermany
  2. 2.UCD Earth Institute and School of Biomolecular and Biomedical ScienceUniversity College DublinBelfield, DublinIreland
  3. 3.Department of Environmental BiotechnologyHelmholtz Centre for Environmental Research – UFZLeipzigGermany
  4. 4.Department of Microbiology and Bioprocess Technology, Institute of BiochemistryLeipzig UniversityLeipzigGermany
  5. 5.Biological Research Center (CIB-CSIC)MadridSpain
  6. 6.BioTeam/ICPEES-ECPM, UMR CNRS 7515Université de StrasbourgStrasbourgFrance
  7. 7.Bioplastech Ltd., Nova UCD, Belfield Innovation ParkUniversity College DublinBelfield, DublinIreland
  8. 8.BEACON – Bioeconomy Research CentreUniversity College DublinBelfield, DublinIreland
  9. 9.Faculty of Health and Medical SciencesUniversity of SurreyGuildfordUnited Kingdom

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