Innovative or Sustainable solutions for Plastic pollution in 2024

Plastic pollution is a significant problem today which requires innovative and sustainable solutions. What was once considered a great invention for the world has now made our Earth sick. Plastic pollution isn't just a standalone threat; it comes with air pollution, water pollution, ocean pollution, chemical pollution, global warming, climate change, and other associated problems.

Many living organisms get trapped in plastic ropes, nets, and similar items, leading to their death. Some mistakenly consume these thinking they are food, which poses health risks. Chemicals found in plastics are now entering the food chain. Microplastics and nanoplastics, which are tiny plastic particles, are ubiquitous—found in oceans, rivers, soil, and even underground water—making them incredibly difficult to separate.

While everyone acknowledges the dangers of plastic, resolving this issue requires innovative solutions that involve science, technology, governments, and most importantly, the collaboration of every individual. This article will discuss innovative and sustainable solutions for plastic pollution in 2024.

Innovative Sustainable solutions for Plastic pollution in 2024

How science and technology are providing solutions for plastic pollution?

1. Bioplastics: Focusing more or “true bioplastic”

Bioplastics are those that can biodegrade in the natural environment over a short period of time or are made from biobased sources, meaning natural polymers. The problem with traditional plastics is that they do not biodegrade in the natural environment, leading to their accumulation everywhere. Therefore, having biodegradable plastics would solve many problems.

Biopolymers include macromolecules such as cellulose, hemicellulose, proteins, starch, pectin, and chitin, which are found in biobased or natural sources. Based on these, there are three types of bioplastics:

  • Fossil-based bioplastics with biodegradability: Plastics made from fossil fuels but are biodegradable, such as Polybutylene adipate terephthalate (PBAT).
  • Biobased bioplastics with non-biodegradability: Plastics made from biobased sources but are not biodegradable, like bio-polyethylene. This is because it is derived from ethylene, which is then modified to have properties similar to synthetic polyethylene.
  • Biobased bioplastics with biodegradability ("True bioplastics"): These are bioplastics made from natural materials and are biodegradable, such as polylactic acid. This is an excellent solution as it can be made from agricultural waste, animal waste such as feathers, hairs, bones, etc., and is biodegradable. True bioplastics offer a sustainable solution to plastic pollution.

2. Microbial Polyester

The use of bacteria and microbes has been prevalent in human practices for centuries. From fermenting milk to produce yogurt to using yeast to leaven bread, humans have utilized microbes in various ways for a long time. Moreover, many chemical compounds are now synthesized using these bacteria and microbes. It's important to remember that even penicillin, the first antibiotic, was derived from microbes.

Read: Causes and consequences of antibiotic resistance.

When certain bacteria or microbes are provided with specific nutrient conditions, they produce microbial polyesters. These microbial polyesters, such as Polyhydroxyalkanoates (PHAs), can be utilized later either as polymers or for the synthesis of new chemicals through various processes.

3. Mechanical and chemical plastic recycling

Recycling plastic waste involves sorting, washing, and reprocessing it for reuse. In mechanical recycling, no chemical bonds are broken in the plastic materials; instead, the plastic is simply melted and reshaped into new products.

Fact: Mechanical recycling reduces carbon dioxide emissions by 1.5 to 2.3 tons per ton of plastic recycled.

Chemical recycling involves breaking chemical bonds in plastic waste through chemical and biochemical reactions. This is then used to create new products. Chemical recycling can be divided into two types: pyrolysis and conventional gasification.

  • Pyrolysis: In pyrolysis, long plastic polymers are converted into smaller hydrocarbon chains. This process occurs under oxygen-deficient conditions. The hydrocarbons obtained can be used as fuels, with diesel being one example. These hydrocarbons are obtained either in liquid or gaseous form and can be used to create new plastic products such as polyethylene and polypropylene.
  • Gasification: In gasification, plastic waste is heated at high temperatures in the presence of a gasifying agent. Steam, oxygen, or air are commonly used as gasifying agents. The result of this process is synthesis gas (a mixture of hydrogen and carbon monoxide (CO + H2)) along with some hydrocarbons such as methane. This syngas can then be used to produce new plastic, new chemicals, or even generate electricity.

Both mechanical and chemical recycling, if utilized effectively, can provide us with a sustainable solution. This is because approximately 400 million tons of plastic are produced each year. The challenge lies in the collection and transportation of plastic waste to recycling sites. If implemented correctly, this can certainly contribute to reducing plastic pollution.

Solutions for Plastic pollution

4. Plastic upcycling

In plastic recycling, plastic is typically recycled to be used as fuels, monomers, or chemical feedstock. Upcycling is a bit different because it focuses on using plastic waste in a more innovative manner. For example, turning chip packetsinto eyeglasses, as done by a Pune-based startup called Ashaya.

In recycling, the quality of the product may remain the same or decrease compared to the starting material. However, in upcycling, there is a focus on maintaining or even improving the quality of the product.

5. Microbial Degradation

Microbial biodegradation refers to the breakdown of plastic materials by microorganisms. It is considered one of the best and most sustainable solutions for plastic pollution if implemented with scientific innovation. However, so far, there hasn't been significant innovation in this field, nor has there been great success.

Let's first understand why microbial biodegradation is considered sustainable. Plastics mainly consist of amides, esters, ethers, and carbon-carbon bonds, which are difficult to break down. Imagine there are microbes that can utilize these molecules as food and completely degrade the plastic.

In the past two decades, there has been considerable research on microbial degradation of plastics such as polyethylene, polypropylene, polyvinyl chloride, polystyrene, and polyethylene terephthalate. However, this process is often slow, which remains a challenge. Bacteria such as Pseudomonas aeruginosa, Bacillus spp., and Bacillus subtilis have been highlighted for their potential in this area.

6. Depolymerization and repolymerization

Depolymerization and repolymerization have been known to scientists for a long time, but in the past decade, many groups have been actively working in this field. Converting polymers back into their starting monomers is indeed a sustainable solution.

One innovative technology for this purpose is hydrogenolysis, where the presence of hydrogen and catalysts such as photocatalysts are used to convert polymers back into their starting monomers. These monomers can then be repolymerized back into plastic.

However, the main challenge lies in collecting and sorting plastic waste for this process because the plastic waste needs to consist of only one type of polymer.

7. Self-healing Plastics materials

In our homes, we have many plastic products, including those that contain microplastics and microbeads. However, many plastic products are discarded solely due to breakage, such as chairs, tables, etc. Similarly, in our cars and public transportation, there are plastic products that are discarded only because they have broken.

In this regard, self-healing materials provide a sustainable solution. Imagine a broken chair that can mend itself with just a little heat, becoming just as strong as it was originally. Or imagine it healing in natural conditions.

This is what self-healing materials offer—a perfect innovative solution for plastic pollution. Instead of discarding broken plastic, it can be used for a long time.

8. Booms and clean-up boats

Booms are floating layers of logs joined together and meant to trap surface detritus such as plastics in water bodies.

They work alongside clean-up boats equipped with nets and baskets to collect debris stuck on the water's surface.

Booms exist in a variety of shapes and sizes to accommodate varied water conditions, but they cannot capture plastics beneath the surface.

9. Trash racks

Trash racks are structures placed in bodies of water to collect solid garbage such as plastic, twigs, and leaves carried by flowing water.

They are made out of bars or grates positioned to enable water to pass through while capturing larger debris, preventing it from flowing downstream.

Regular cleaning is required to remove gathered material and prevent obstructions, ensuring that the trash racks work effectively in cleaning up water pollution.

10. Sea bins

Sea bins are specially designed floating bins that collect floating waste and microplastics as small as 2 mm from the surface of freshwater and marine systems.

Positioned in calm waters near power sources like docks or marinas, sea bins draw in water from the top and pass it through a filter bag inside, which selectively traps waste while allowing water to flow back out.

Small and large sea bins have been effectively deployed in various locations including California, Oregon, Hawaii, and Texas, contributing to cleaner waterways.

11. Stormwater ponds

Stormwater runoff transports a large number of plastic items and microplastics directly into rivers, streams, lakes, and oceans.

Technologies like Stormwater and Wastewater Filters and the In-line Litter Separator (ILLS) are employed to prevent macroplastics from entering water bodies by trapping litter from stormwater runoff in places like shopping areas.

Further these artificial ponds function as centralised stormwater collecting and treatment stations. Microplastics settle naturally in these ponds or are effectively removed by adsorption, absorption, chemical, and biological methods.

Along with microplastics, larger plastic trash is being targeted for disposal. Furthermore, stormwater ponds serve an important role in treating a variety of other pollutants, such as oils, minerals, and toxic metals, helping to improve overall water quality.

12. Waterway litter traps

Bandalong Litter Trap and SCG Litter Trap use floating devices to capture and guide litter into traps, preventing macroplastics from flowing downstream and polluting water bodies further.

13. Artificial intelligence and Robotics for pollution control and prevention

Detection aids such as the Malolo I unmanned aerial robot and GPS trackers on ghost nets help to identify and mark marine waste for eventual collection or tagging, making cleanup activities more efficient.

The CLEVER-Volume system uses sensors to validate the amount of ship garbage reported, promoting proper waste management practices and preventing macroplastic discharge into aquatic bodies.

Drones and robots like WasteShark and Jellyfishbot use cutting-edge technology to collect floating waste from bodies of water. Mimicking the natural processes to come up with innovative technologies such as robots is also known as biomimicking which serves as sustainable solutions to a lot of problems

Sand filters, such as the Barber Surf Rake and Barber Sand Man, remove debris from beaches with tractor-towed or walk-behind equipment.

What governments doing at international and national level?

Governments at all levels—local, national, and international—are beginning to confront this issue.

  • Between 2000 and 2019, at least 28 international initiatives were developed to combat plastic pollution.
  • The United Nations Environment Assembly (UNEA) has adopted several resolutions aimed at reducing marine plastic pollution.
  • The G7 recognised marine pollution as a global concern in 2015, and in 2018 adopted the Ocean Plastics Charter, which outlines concrete objectives to decrease plastic waste in the ocean.
  • In 2017, the G20 approved an Action Plan on Marine Litter.
  • Governments around the world are gradually implementing strategies to combat single-use plastic bags and other macroplastics, primarily through regulatory restrictions.
  • Several countries, including the United States, Canada, and the United Kingdom, have passed statewide restrictions on microbeads in cosmetics.

Sustainable innovative solutions for plastic pollution

What are more approaches to solve the problem of plastic pollution?

A course on plastic pollution should be made mandatory in our schools. Here, children should understand the significance of plastic products, their proper usage, and how to dispose of them correctly. Because we cannot remove plastic from our lives. We need plastic in every small and big thing, whether it's just a pen or a space station. But when students are taught about their proper disposal, it will be a very good start.

People should be educated about plastic through documentaries, movies, symposiums, seminars, and conferences, covering every small village.

The government should invest more in new innovations such as true bioplastics, polymer upcycling, and artificial intelligence such as robotics, which are sustainable and innovative ways to solve the plastic problem.

Of course, at the individual level, we should try to replace plastic items as much as possible, such as avoiding using plastic bags for packaging and opting for cloth or jute bags instead. Reduce the use of plastic items or reuse them whenever possible. For example, opt for refillable pens to avoid buying pens repeatedly. And we should always have a sense of responsibility to live on our Earth and keep it clean.


Plastic pollution solutions:emerging technologies to prevent and collect marine plastic pollution

Bioplastics from Biopolymers: An Eco-Friendly and SustainableSolution of Plastic Pollution

Recent Progress in the Chemical Upcycling of PlasticWastes

Covalent adaptable network andself-healing materials: current trends and future prospects in sustainability



I hold a doctorate in chemistry and have expertise in the intersection of organic and medicinal chemistry. My work primarily revolves around developing bioactive molecules with medicinal potential.

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