Microbial Degradation of Polyethylene: Recent Progress and Challenges

  • Shiv Shankar
  • Shailja Singh
  • Anuradha Mishra
  • Manju Sharma
  • Shikha
Part of the Microorganisms for Sustainability book series (MICRO, volume 10)


Polythene or polyethylene is the most commonly used polymer for the manufacturing of geomembranes, plastic bags, containers, bottles, and plastic films. The main properties of the plastics suited for its application include durability, inertness, light weight, flexibility, and low cost. Over the last three decades, the indiscriminate use of the polyethylene in transportation, packaging operations, agriculture, and industry has increased the problem of its accumulation in soil sediments and aqueous streams. Accumulation of polyethylene has emerged as a significant environmental issue nowadays. The improper disposal of solid waste containing plastic has increased the extent of the problem manifold. Used plastic packing materials and improperly disposed plastic bags prevent the entry of water and air into the earth, thereby causing depletion of groundwater and negative impacts on soil fauna. Adverse biochemical effects are caused to soil and water fauna upon ingestion of these toxic compounds. Upon unintentional ingestion, polythene causes intestinal blockage in aquatic biota like fishes, sea turtles, and seabirds. Existing conventional physical and chemical methods for the disposal of polyethylene are costly and result in formation of toxic compounds. Biodegradation of plastic is proposed as a more environmentally sound technology for disposal of plastic waste as compared to its recycling, incineration, and landfilling. In the light of the aforesaid context, the present chapter is an attempt to highlight various issues of microbial degradation of plastic, viz., general chemistry of polyethylene, its classification, role of microbes and their enzyme systems in degradation of polyethylene, and stages and obstacles in microbial degradation of the polyethylene.


Microbial degradation Polyethylene Progress Challenges Biodegradation 


  1. Ahmed, N., Zeeshan, M., Iqbal, N., Farooq, M. Z., & Shah, S. A. (2018). Investigation on bio-oil yield and quality with scrap tire addition in sugarcane bagasse pyrolysis. Journal of Cleaner Production, 196, 927–934.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. Alshehrei, F. (2017). Biodegradation of low density polyethylene by fungi isolated from red sea water. International Journal of Current Microbiology and Applied Sciences, 6, 1703–1709.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. Amaral-Zettler, L. (2019). Plastics: Colonization and degradation. Reference Module in Life Sciences. Scholar
  4. Arkatkar, A., Juwarkar, A. A., Bhaduri, S., et al. (2010). Growth of pseudomonas and bacillus biofilms on pretreated polypropylene surface. International Biodeterioration and Biodegradation, 64(6), 530–536.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. Awasthi, S., Srivastava, P., Singh, P., et al. (2017). Biodegradation of thermally treated high-density polyethylene (HDPE) by Klebsiella pneumoniae CH001. 3 Biotech, 7(5), 332.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. Bhatia, M., Girdhar, A., Tiwari, et al. (2014). Implications of a novel pseudomonas species on low density polyethylene biodegradation: An in vitro to in silico approach. Springer Plus, 3, 497.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. da Luz, J. M. R., Paes, S. A., Ribeiro, K. V. G., Mendes, I. R., & Kasuya, M. C. M. (2015). Degradation of green polyethylene by Pleurotus ostreatus. PLoS One, 10, 626–647.Google Scholar
  8. Das, M. P., & Kumar, S. (2014). An approach to low density polyethylene biodegradation by Bacillus amyloliquefaciens. 3 Biotech, 5, 81–86.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. Das, M. P., & Kumar, S. (2015). An approach to low-density polyethylene biodegradation by bacillus amyloliquefaciens. 3 Biotech, 5, 81–86.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. De Bomfim, A. S. C., Maciel, M. M. Á. D., Voorwald, H. J. C., et al. (2019). Effect of different degradation types on properties of plastic waste obtained from espresso coffee capsules. Waste Management, 83, 123–130.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. Denuncio, P., Bastida, R., Dassis, M., et al. (2011). Plastic ingestion in Franciscana dolphins, Pontoporia blainvillei (Gervais and d’Orbigny, 1844), Argentina. Marine Pollution Bulletin, 62(8), 1836–1841.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. Farzi, A., Dehnad, A., & Fotouhi, A. F. (2019). Biodegradation of polyethylene terephthalate waste using Streptomyces species and kinetic modeling of the process. Biocatalysis and Agricultural Biotechnology, 17, 25–31.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. Fontanella, S., Bonhomme, S., Kounty, M., Husarova, L., Brusson, J. M., et al. (2010). Comparison of biodegradability of various polyethylene films containing pro-oxidant additives. Polymer Degradation and Stability, 95, 1011–1021.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. Fujisawa, H., Hirai, H., & Nishida, T. (2001). Degradation of polyethylene and nylon-66 by laccase mediator system. Journal of Polymers and the Environment, 9, 103–108.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. Gajendiran, A., Krishnamoorthy, S., & Abraham, J. (2016). Microbial degradation of low-density polyethylene (LDPE) by Aspergillus clavatus strain JASK1 isolated from landfill soil. 3 Biotech, 6(1), 52.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. Gamerith, C., Zartl, B., Pellis, A., et al. (2017). Enzymatic recovery of polyester building blocks from polymer blends. Process Biochemistry, 59, 58–64.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  17. Ganesh, P., Dineshraj, D., & Yoganathan, K. (2016). Production and screening of depolymerising enzymes by potential bacteria and fungi isolated from plastic waste dump yard sites. International Journal of Applied Research, 3(3), 693–695.Google Scholar
  18. Gómez-Méndez, L. D., Moreno-Bayona, D. A., Poutou-Piñales, R. A., Salcedo-Reyes, J. C., Pedroza-Rodríguez, A. M., Vargas, A., & Bogoya, J. M. (2018). Biodeterioration of plasma pretreated LDPE sheets by Pleurotus ostreatus. PLoS One, 13(9), 770–786.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  19. Gyung Yoon, M., Jeong Jeon, H., & Nam Kim, M. (2012). Biodegradation of polyethylene by a soil bacterium and Alk B cloned recombinant cell. Journal of Bioremediation & Biodegradation, 3, 145.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. Harrison, J. P., Sapp, M., Schratzberger, M., et al. (2011). Interactions between microorganisms and marine microplastics: A call for research. Marine Technology Society Journal, 45(2), 12–20.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  21. Harshvardhan, K., & Jha, B. (2013). Biodegradation of low-density polyethylene by marine bacteria from pelagic waters, Arabian Sea, India. Marine Pollution Bulletin, 77, 100–106.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  22. Huerta Lwanga, E., Thapa, B., & Yang, X. (2018). Decay of low-density polyethylene by bacteria extracted from earthworm’s guts: A potential for soil restoration. Science of the Total Environment, 624, 753–757.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  23. Jeon, H. J., & Kim, M. N. (2013). Isolation of a thermophilic bacterium capable of low-molecular-weight polyethylene degradation. Biodegradation, 24, 89–98.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  24. Kaseem, M., Hamad, K., & Deri, F. (2012). Thermoplastic starch blends: A review of recent works. Polymer Science Series A, 54, 165–176.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  25. Khabbaz, F., Albertsson, A. C., & Karlsson, S. (1999). Chemical and morphological changes of environmentally degradable polyethylene films exposed to thermo-oxidation. Polymer Degradation and Stability, 63, 127–138.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  26. Krueger, M. C., Harms, H., & Schlosser, D. (2015). Prospects for microbiological solutions to environmental pollution with plastics. Applied Microbiology and Biotechnology, 99, 8857–8874.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  27. Kumar, S., Das, M., Rebecca, L. J., et al. (2013). Isolation and identification of LDPE degrading fungi from municipal solid waste. Journal of Chemical and Pharmaceutical Research, 5(3), 78–81.Google Scholar
  28. Kyaw, B. M., Champakalakshmi, R., Sakharkar, M. K., Lim, C. S., & Sakharkar, K. R. (2012). Biodegradation of Low Density Polythene (LDPE) by pseudomonas species. Indian Journal of Microbiology, 52, 411–419.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  29. Montazer, Z., Habibi-Najafi, M. B., & Mohebbi, M. (2018). Microbial degradation of UV-pretreated low-density polyethylene films by novel polyethylene-degrading bacteria isolated from plastic-dump soil. Journal of Polymers and the Environment, 26, 3613–3625.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  30. Munir, E., Harefa, R. S. M., & Priyani, N. (2018). Plastic degrading fungi Trichoderma viride and Aspergillus nomius isolated from local landfill soil in Medan. IOP Conference Series: Earth and Environmental Science, 126, 012145.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  31. Nowak, B., Paja, k J., Drozd-Bratkowicz, M., et al. (2011). Microorganisms participating in the biodegradation of modified polyethylene films in different soils under laboratory conditions. International Biodeterioration and Biodegradation, 65, 757–767.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  32. Oberbeckmann, S., Loeder, M. G. J., Gerdts, G., & Osborn, A. M. (2014). Spatial and seasonal variation in diversity and structure of microbial biofilms on marine plastics in northern European waters. FEMS Microbiology Ecology, 90, 478–492.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  33. Oberbeckmann, S., Osborn, A. M., & Duhaime, M. B. (2016). Microbes on a bottle: Substrate, season and geography influence community composition of microbes colonizing marine plastic debris. PLoS One, 11(8), e0159289.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  34. Ojha, N., Pradhan, N., Singh, S., et al. (2017). Evaluation of HDPE and LDPE degradation by fungus, implemented by statistical optimization. Scientific Reports, 7, 39515.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  35. Paço, A., Duarte, K., da Costa, J. P., et al. (2017). Biodegradation of polyethylene microplastics by the marine fungus Zalerion maritimum. Science of the Total Environment, 586, 10–15.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  36. Pathak, V. M., & Kumar, N. (2017a). Implications of SiO2 nanoparticles for in vitro biodegradation of low-density polyethylene with potential isolates of bacillus, pseudomonas, and their synergistic effect on Vigna mungo growth. Energy, Ecology and Environment, 2, 418–427.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  37. Pathak, V. M., & Kumar, N. (2017b). Dataset on the impact of UV, nitric acid and surfactant treatments on low-density polyethylene biodegradation. Data in Brief, 14, 393–411.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  38. Pramila, R., & Vijaya Ramesh, K. (2011). Biodegradation of low density polyethylene (LDPE) by fungi isolated from municipal landfill area. Journal of Microbiology and Biotechnology Research, 1(4), 131–136.Google Scholar
  39. Raghul, S. S., Bhat, S. G., Chandrasekaran, M., Francis, V., & Thachil, E. T. (2014). Biodegradation of polyvinyl alcohol-low linear density polyethylene-blended plastic film by consortium of marine benthic vibrios. International Journal of Environmental Science and Technology, 11(7), 1827–1834.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  40. Restrepo-Flórez, J. M., Bassi, A., & Thompson, M. R. (2014). Microbial degradation and deterioration of polyethylene-a review. International Biodeterioration and Biodegradation, 88, 83–90.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  41. Ronkvist, Ã. S. M., Xie, W., Lu, W., et al. (2009). Cutinase-catalyzed hydrolysis of poly(ethylene terephthalate). Macromolecules, 42, 5128–5138.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  42. Roy, P. K., Titus, S., Surekha, P., Tulsi, E., Deshmukh, C., & Rajagopal, C. (2008). Degradation of abiotically aged LDPE films containing prooxidant by bacterial consortium. Polymer Degradation and Stability, 93, 1917–1922.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  43. Sammond, D. W., Yarbrough, J. M., Mansfield, E., et al. (2014). Predicting enzyme adsorption to lignin films by calculating enzyme surface hydrophobicity. The Journal of Biological Chemistry, 289, 20960–20969.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  44. Sangeetha, D. R., Kannan, R., Nivas, D., Kannan, K., Chandru, S., & Robert, A. A. (2015). Biodegradation of HDPE by Aspergillus spp. from marine ecosystem of Gulf of Mannar, India. Marine Pollution Bulletin, 96(1–2), 32–40.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  45. Sangeetha Devi, R., Ramya, R., & Kannan, K. (2019). Investigation of biodegradation potentials of high-density polyethylene degrading marine bacteria isolated from the coastal regions of Tamil Nadu, India. Marine Pollution Bulletin, 138, 549–560.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  46. Santo, M., Weitsman, R., & Sivan, A. (2013). The role of the copper-binding enzyme laccase in the biodegradation of polyethylene by the actinomycete Rhodococcus ruber. International Biodeterioration and Biodegradation, 84, 204–210.Google Scholar
  47. Sekiguchi, T., Sato, T., & Enoki, M. (2011). Isolation and characterization of biodegradable plastic degrading bacteria from deep-sea environments. JAMSTEC Report of Research and Development, 11, 33–41.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  48. Shahnawaz, M., Sangale, M. K., & Ade, A. B. (2016). Bacteria-based polythene degradation products: GC-MS analysis and toxicity testing. Environmental Science and Pollution Research, 23, 10733–10741.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  49. Shankar, S., & Shikha. (2012). Laccase production and enzymatic modification of lignin by a novel Peniophora sp. Applied Biochemistry and Biotechnology, 166, 1082–1094.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  50. Sheik, S., Chandrashekar, K. R., & Swaroop, K. (2015). Biodegradation of gamma irradiated low density polyethylene and polypropylene by endophytic fungi. International Biodeterioration and Biodegradation, 105, 21–29.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  51. Sivan, A., Szanto, M., & Pavlov, V. (2006). Biofilm development of the polyethylene-degrading bacterium Rhodococcus ruber. Applied Microbiology and Biotechnology, 72, 346–352.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  52. Skariyachan, S., Patil, A. A., & Shankar, A. (2018). Enhanced polymer degradation of polyethylene and polypropylene by novel thermophilic consortia of Brevibacillus sps. And Aneurinibacillus sp. screened from waste management landfills and sewage treatment plants. Polymer Degradation and Stability, 149, 52–68.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  53. Sowmya, H. V., Ramalingappa, K., & Thippeswamy, B. (2014). Low density polyethylene degrading fungi isolated from Shivamogga district. International Journal of Biological Research, 2(2), 39–43.Google Scholar
  54. Sudhakar, M., Doble, M., Murthy, P. S., & Venkatesan, R. (2008). Marine microbemediated biodegradation of low-and high density polyethylenes. International Biodeterioration and Biodegradation, 61, 203–213.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  55. Sumathi, T., Viswanath, B., Sri Lakshmi, A., & Sai Gopal, D. V. R. (2016). Production of laccase by Cochliobolus sp. isolated from plastic dumped soils and their ability to degrade low molecular weight PVC. Biochemistry Research International. Scholar
  56. Thompson, R. C., Moore, C., vom Saal, F. S., et al. (2009). Plastics, the environment and human health: Current consensus and future trends. Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences, 364, 2153–2166.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  57. Tribedi, P., & Sil, A. K. (2013). Low-density polyethylene degradation by pseudomonas sp. AKS2 biofilm. Environmental Science and Pollution Research International, 20, 4146–4153.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  58. Tribedi, P., Gupta, A. D., & Sil, A. K. (2015). Adaptation of pseudomonas sp. AKS2 in biofilm on low-density polyethylene surface: An effective strategy for efficient survival and polymer degradation. Bioresour Bioprocess, 2, 14.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  59. Vimala, P. P., & Mathew, L. (2016). Biodegradation of polyethylene using bacillus Subtilis. Procedia Technology, 24, 232–239.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  60. Wei, R., Oeser, T., & Zimmermann, W. (2014). Synthetic polyester-hydrolyzing enzymes from thermophilic actinomycetes. Advances in Applied Microbiology, 89, 267–305.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  61. Yang, J., Yang, Y., Wu, W. M., et al. (2014). Evidence of polyethylene biodegradation by bacterial strains from the guts of plastic-eating waxworms. Environmental Science & Technology, 48, 13776–13784.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Nature Singapore Pte Ltd. 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  • Shiv Shankar
    • 1
  • Shailja Singh
    • 2
  • Anuradha Mishra
    • 3
  • Manju Sharma
    • 1
  • Shikha
    • 2
  1. 1.Department of Environmental Science, School of Vocational Studies and Applied SciencesGautam Budhha University (A State University)Greater NoidaIndia
  2. 2.Department of Environmental ScienceBaba Saheb Bhimrao Ambedkar University (A Central University)LucknowIndia
  3. 3.Department of Applied Chemistry, School of Vocational Studies and Applied SciencesGautam Buddha University (A State University)Greater NoidaIndia

Personalised recommendations